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Gas Leak In The Valley Declared Local Emergency, May Force School Closures

The Aliso Canyon Gas & Oil Field (Photo by Roy Randall via the Creative Commons)
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A massive gas leak near Porter Ranch that is sickening residents has been declared a local emergency by L.A. County and may force the closure of nearby schools.On October 23, an underground storage well at Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon storage facility in the San Fernando Valley was found to be leaking natural gas. And while the L.A. County Department of Public Health has said the gas is not dangerous and doesn't pose long-term health risks, residents of the affluent Porter Ranch neighborhood have said that in addition to a rotten-egg-like smell, the ongoing gas leak has also caused nausea, headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds—not to mention a no fly zone.

And now, L.A. County supervisors have declared a state of local emergency because of the gas leak in hopes of getting increased state and federal aid, reports theL.A. Times. School district officials are also now developing a plan to relocate students from two elementary schools in the area as the gas has been an irritant and a distraction, affecting attendance of students and staff, according to the Times.

Michael D. Antonovich, the Supervisor who represents the area, says the emergency declaration was needed because of an "increasing number of concerned and displaced residents, health concerns in the community and the uncertainty of when the well will be capped." Supervisors ratified the declaration on Tuesday. SoCalGas has paid to temporarily relocate 1,675 people, installed air purification systems in 90 homes and crews are drilling a relief well in order to seal off the leaking one. But the company says a permanent solution is still months away. There have been multiple lawsuits over the gas leak and Antonovich has called for closing the Aliso Canyon facility permanently in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, school district officials are considering plans to close Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane and move students to other schools with space or a currently closed campus, sources tell the Times. The Board of Education is expected to address the issue at a meeting on Thursday. On November 30, L.A. Unified School District began monitoring air quality at the schools, and has offered to assist individual families to relocate students to another campus or set up home-schooling.

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Visits to the health office at both schools have increased, peaking around December 9, with visits ranging from 9 to 38 per day with 42% of students sent home. Stomachaches and headaches have been the most common symptoms, while some students have experienced nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting.

"From these two weeks of monitoring, it is clear that the reported short-term symptoms of the gas leak are rising in overall numbers," Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said in memo released to the Times. "We have discussed these findings with the County Department of Public Health, and they are also receiving more calls about health complaints in the Porter Ranch community."

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