ALISO CANYON (CBSLA.com) — Seven-year-old Aliya Hall gets comfort by sitting in her own bed, but it’s a brief stay. She’s usually at Children’s Hospital undergoing chemotherapy for a rare form of leukemia.
“It hurt because they found out I had cancer,” the little girl said.
Zaven Islikaplan, 63, is also spending just a short time at his home. Most of the time he’s in the hospital on a breathing device after getting his own intensive round of chemotherapy.
“Yeah, I don’t want to give up,” Islikaplan said in tears. “In the beginning, I was thinking OK, I don’t want to do anything.”
Hall and Islikaplan share the same rare form of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, also known as AML. They also both share a community: Porter Ranch.
They were among 8,000 families to relocate during the Aliso Canyon gas leak. An infrared video captured methane rising above the hills. An estimated 97,000 metric tons of natural gas escaped from a storage well from October 2015 to February 2016.
The gas leak made headlines as people were evacuated for months until the well was capped. Now 17 months later, the first signs of a deadly cancer are beginning to show.
Islikaplan’s family dog died, he and his wife Patricia suffered nose bleeds and a year after the gas leak began, Islikaplan went from being a marathon runner to a cancer patient.
“All of the sudden, everything changed,” he said. “My body. I don’t know. Then I start losing weight. And then I sweat,” Islikaplan said.
AML is a form of cancer tied to benzene, a chemical that was also leaking out of the well in Porter Ranch.
Nachman Brautbar is an expert on how environmental factors can cause cancer and has worked on cases with Erin Brockovich. He can’t say for sure that Hall and Islikaplan’s cancers were caused by the gas leak but says it raises questions.
“All the scientific institutes say benzene is a cause for AML,” Brautbar said. “It is a rare disease, so to see two in that area? It is suspicious.”
SoCalGas wouldn’t address those suspicions but in a statement said: “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.”
Matt Pakucko is a music producer who lives in Porter Ranch and has been an outspoken critic of SoCalGas from the beginning.
“I don’t care what they say. They lied from the beginning,” Pakucko said. “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.”
Attorney Patricia Oliver represents more than 7,000 people they were affected by the Porter Ranch leak and agrees more testing is needed.
“We’re charting new territory in the health issues of what this is going to mean to the community,” Oliver said.
Islikaplan’s wife warns that those who feel healthy might not be as healthy as they think. She says it would be a good idea for those folks to have some blood work done just to be sure.