LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Bette Fernandes taught at Castlebay Lane Elementary school in Porter Ranch for 13 years.
The school is just miles from where the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak occurred. The massive release at the SoCalGas storage facility forced the evacuation of the entire area.
But since Fernandes died six years earlier, the family never thought there was a connection, until now.
“It definitely raises a concern. Suspect, was there a relationship with the two?” her daughter Jenifer Fernandes asks.
CBS2 News has obtained documents showing that even before the big leak, there was a steady stream of chemicals coming from the gas fields from 2000 to 2014.
“Yeah, I started wondering: ‘Could that be part of cause, could that be the main cause?’ ” her husband Ralph Fernandes said.
CBS2 took the data to Michael Kleinman, a professor of environmental medicine at UC Irvine. He says some of these spikes are above what he considers safe.
“It’s a chemical that has a number of health effects, including cancer.”
Marilyn Short worked at Castlebay Lane for more than 40 years and says she and others routinely smelled gas.
“We’d call up and say ‘What’s happening?’ and they’d just say ‘We’re releasing gas, it’s too full, we’re releasing it,’ ” Short said. “So then we figured that’s what they’re doing, we just took their word for it. I think they’re lying to people.”
Susie Kimmel was a teacher at Castlebay Lane for 27 years. One year after the gas leak, she was diagnosed with bladder and bone cancer and wonders if she was exposed to toxic emissions over the years.
“I was calling my school office in the building because it was hard to breathe,” Kimmel said. “I would call the office and say my room smells like gas. The hallway smells like gas”
Kimmel died two weeks ago.
According the National Institutes of Health, formaldehyde not only can cause cancer but has toxic effects on the skin and respiratory system.
Eileen Cipriano is a teacher at Castlebay Lane and so was her partner, who died of cancer in 2015 before the leak. Cipriano worries about her health.
“As long as I can remember, I had a chronic bronchial problem. I know I’ve had it since I’ve been at Castlebay,” she says.
“I have friends who did not have migraines until they started working at Castlebay. I have friends with nose bleeds.”
A representative from the South Coast AQMD, the state agency that monitors the air quality, says the levels of formaldehyde are safe. They claim they’ve analyzed random years of emissions, although they couldn’t provide any reports.
“The potential health impacts from formaldyhyde and all air toxics from the facility was extremely low,” AQMD’s Jo Kay Ghosh says.
But the emissions data has Ralph Fernandes living with uncertainty.
“How long does it take for some of these symptoms to actually show up?” he wonders. “Can it take months? Can it take years? Those are the type of questions I have now.”
Statement from SoCalGas
“Aliso Canyon is in compliance with all permit conditions relating to formaldehyde. Moreover, SoCalGas is in the process of replacing natural gas turbines at Aliso Canyon which will reduce formaldehyde emissions and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the facility by about 90 percent.
“In compliance with state laws, SoCalGas files public emissions reports with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). The SCAQMD has not expressed any concerns that formaldehyde levels require any action.
“In fact, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated that the SCAQMD reported that formaldehyde was not found at elevated concentrations in the community during the gas leak.”