As Gas Leak Near Porter Ranch Enters Seventh Week, Doctor Weighs In On Health Risks

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com)   —  With the gas leak near Porter Ranch entering its seventh week, residents have chosen to leave the area, remove their kids from school or stick it out and remain in their homes.

In the beginning, residents were told by the county and the gas company that there were no long-term health risks of being exposed to the gas and chemicals it contained.

But many residents have expressed concerns that their health is being affected, or compromised. Many have complained of headaches, rashes, nausea, nose bleeds.

Dangerous or no biggie?

Last week, Cynthia Harding with the Department of Public Health wrote in a memo to LA County Supervisors, “As the duration of exposure increases, these trace levels can produce significant long-term health effects.”

Dr. Cyrus Rangan, the Director of Toxicology and Assessment for the county, came to CBS2/KCAL9 to answer questions.

Paul Magers asked Dr. Rangan was there something for residents to worry about?

RELATED LINK: The 3 R’s — Reading, Writing, Rage – Porter Ranch Parents Pull Their Kids Out Of School Over Gas Leak

He replied, “I think what we’re viewing here is an ever-evolving situation. We have, at the beginning of the situation, a gas leak where we were given the impression that it might be fixed in a few days, maybe a week. At that time we had assurance that people would not incur any long-term health risks from this. But as the situation has evolved, we’re in our seventh week now, it gave us pause to say, now we really need to look at all the chemicals of concern that may cause long-term health risks. Fortunately, all the readings  that we have so far, indicate that we are still not at the risk of long-term health effects or permanent health problems from this exposure. But we need to monitor this stuff every day because it is an ever-evolving situation.”

Suzie Suh asked him what is the chemical health officials are most concerned about.

“There are a number we are concerned about. The one we are we concerned about the most — in terms of the symptoms people are getting there —  are these sulfer-based compounds.The compounds we add into natural gas to give it its smell, its characteristic smell. And it’s those odors causing the physiological response in the body which give rise to the symptoms, such as nausea, abdominal discomfort, dizziness or headaches, or shortness of breath or nosebleeds. These are real symptoms that are occurring in people in and around the Porter Ranch area.”

Magers also asked about workers being affected trying to repair the pipe. It’s been reported that radon is being released. Radon has been linked to lung cancer in non-smokers.

“This is a theoretical possibility,” Dr. Rangan said, “and when you’re addressing a problem that might be several hundred or even several thousand feet deep, you might generate what are called preferential pathways for something like radon, beneath the Earth’s surface, to make its way up to the surface. So primarily our concern about radon is from the worker’s exposure, for the people actually doing the repair job. If we find radon there, we can address the situation. And if radon does exist in the work site then we may need to have to look at the residential community and monitor for it there, too.”

Suh then asked the doctor a question many residents would like to ask the gas company. If it was your family being exposed, would you stay in the area?

“I think the message here is,  if you are living in that area and you are not smelling anything, by all means, stay in your house. And I would do the same. If you smell something and you are not having symptoms, or you can tolerate the mild symptoms you do have, by all means, stay in your house. But, if you are smelling stuff, and you are experiencing symptoms and you find those symptoms to be unbearable, whether it’s for you or your children, or anyone else in your family, then take advantage of the voluntary relocation assistance program that the gas company is providing,” Dr. Rangan said.

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