Firefighters protecting residents in Porter Ranch during the massive Aliso Canyon Gas Well Blowout have filed a civil lawsuit against Southern California Gas Company (“SoCalGas”). According to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the firefighters claim the utility knowingly exposed them to hazardous levels of known toxins like benzene and formaldehyde. The firefighters are represented in the case by the Parris Law Firm, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP and Morgan & Morgan.
Shortly after the gas well blowout in October 2015, firefighters jumped into action, by helping protect the community and respond to 911 calls from residents and SoCalGas employees. The firefighters at Station 28 in Porter Ranch requested air purifiers from SoCalGas in December 2015, but the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) joined with SoCalGas to say there were no health impacts.
“They were telling everyone that it’s safe. It’s fine to go in there. They told that specifically to the firefighters at a meeting. So the firefighters, of course, didn’t go in with any protective gear. They didn’t go in with any air respirators. They were breathing in oily mist and there was a cloud of mist covering the community,” Jesse Creed of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP told KABC7.
Together, DPH and SoCalGas told the LAFD the same thing as the public that “natural gas is not toxic.” But SoCalGas issued a Proposition 65 notice in August of this year saying the exact opposite – natural gas has chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.
“My brothers and I are proud to be firefighters, and we’re trained and ready to run into any dangerous situation,” said Daniel Mehterian, a recently retired firefighter. “SoCalGas chose to lie to us, mislead us and put us in harm’s way without giving us the chance to warn others. They robbed us of the chance to help save lives further, and instead chose to hide the truth and cover their own butts. Now we are all suffering intense nosebleeds, severe headaches, nausea, dizziness and more. To a man, we would gladly lay down our lives, but none of us can stand being lied to.”
The firefighters allege that SoCalGas misled them about the extent of the chemical exposure to workers stationed near Porter Ranch during the blowout. SoCalGas failed to protect the first responders tasked with protecting the public and exposed these firefighters to hazardous chemicals. The firefighters claim they suffered from, and in some cases continue to suffer from nosebleeds, migraine headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, sleeping difficulties, and breathing difficulties. Many now battle cancer.
“The brave men and women who choose to be firefighters risk their lives every day in order to keep us safe,” said attorney Rex Parris. “SoCalGas hid the truth from these brave souls in order to keep all of us in the dark. Now, the bravery of these firefighters has been rewarded with chronic, often permanent illness by SoCalGas’ lies.”
Between October 23, 2015 and February 18, 2016, toxic gases spewed out of the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility into the residential communities in the northern San Fernando Valley. By volume, the gas leaking at this time was 220 times greater than the oil released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In late January 2016, SoCalGas partnered with the DPH to tell the firefighters at Station 28 the gas was “not toxic.” The DPH employees told the LAFD there were no risks to their health, assured the LAFD of the safety of the gas and its constituents and told the firefighters odorants caused short-term irritation to people who are sensitive to odors. Within less than six weeks, DPH knew its own employees suffered from the same health problems when going to Porter Ranch, but DPH never returned to let the firefighters know of the health risks.
The lawsuit alleges SoCalGas knew its statements were false and that it had known for at least two decades gas transported to Aliso Canyon via pipelines had benzene – a known carcinogen. The benzene levels in the stored gas thousands of times higher than the accepted exposure set by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). New requirements for Proposition 65 also forced SoCalGas to admit on August 1, 2018 that its natural gas contained known carcinogens, including formaldehyde.
Read the KABC7 news report here.
Read the Daily Journal story here.
Read the Bloomberg Enviroment report here.
Read the Los Angeles Times story here.
Read the LA Daily News story here.