From October 2015 to February 2016, an estimated 97,000 metric tons of natural gas spewed from a storage well in Porter Ranch, Southern California. Around 8,000 families were relocated to prevent long-term exposure to toxic fumes such as benzene, a known link to cancer.
Now, 18 months later, two of those Porter Ranch residents are fighting for their lives.
Aliya Hall, age 7, spends a lot of her time at Children’s Hospital undergoing chemotherapy. Zaven Islikaplan, 63, spends more time at the hospital than at home due to his brutal rounds of chemo that require regular breathing treatments. Their diagnoses are identical: acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of leukemia linked to benzene exposure.
“It hurt because they found out I had cancer,” Hall said.
During the gas leak, Islikaplan and his wife, Patricia, developed nosebleeds. Their family dog died. Now Zaven, a marathon runner, is weak with cancer ravaging his body.
“All of the sudden, everything changed,” Islikaplan said.
SoCalGas, the company responsible for the leak, said in a statement, “Thousands of indoor and outdoor air, dust, soil, and mud samples have been analyzed by public health agencies who concluded the communities near Aliso Canyon are safe.”
But Matt Pakucko, a music producer and Porter Ranch resident, doesn’t trust them. “I don’t care what they say,” Pakucko said. “They lied from the beginning. Do I have benzene building up inside me that I’ll find out about a few years down the road? I don’t know. They haven’t tested any freaking person.”
Benzene is a chemical widely used in many industries and products. However, most people aren’t aware of the dangers of exposure. Benzene exposure has been linked to life-threatening diseases such as AML, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia.