Are Aliso Victims Going to Be Screwed By the Impending Health Study?

From the beginning of the 2015 blowout at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, local residents have expressed apprehension about what the disaster would mean for their health. Nosebleeds, headaches, rashes were more than symptoms to those living within miles of the SoCalGas site nestled in the Santa Susana mountains on the northern end of the San Fernando Valley. They saw these as harbingers for more serious medical conditions….and they were right.

Despite the reassurances from the County Department of Public Health (DPH), that residents were reacting to the odorants flooding the air, it became evident by the time damaged well SS-25 was finally sealed four months later, that it was other chemicals making people sick.

And now five years later, the DPH will be pitching a Goals and Priorities statement for the health study allotted by the 2018 Consent Decree with SoCalGas. This presentation will be during a special meeting of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council to be immediately followed by a second meeting during which the Community Advisory Group (CAG) will be offering their analysis of this statement.

The double meeting will be on Monday, April 5, 2021, with the first meeting starting at 6:15pm and the second one at 7:45pm. The zoom information: https://Zoom.us/j/94783511596, Tel: (888) 475–4499 or (669) 900–6833, Conference ID: 94783511596#.

I described the history of false starts for a health study into how Aliso Canyon affected the approximately 1.5 million residents of the northern San Fernando Valley from one that would have been funded by state legislation to a vastly underfunded study that would have been conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Monitoring District as part of my series about how public agencies mishandled the disaster response.

I gave a chronicling of the beginning of the Consent Decree’s health study, and a discussion of the issues that came up for the CAG during the first 19 months of phase 1, including a look at fugitive emissions, chemicals, and the DPH town hall and a look at a video that was never released, evidence bins of VOCs and other hazardous materials, a community survey debacle, and requested cancer and CBC studies in other parts of my series.

Before a request for proposal application is written to be sent out to potential research teams, the DPH will seek community comment on its “Goals and Priorities” statement, which was released on March 18th. According to the DPH website, the statement was “developed with input received from the affected community through a variety of engagement efforts, these Goals & Priorities identify key areas the Health Study should address.”

The site goes on to explain that this community input included submissions to a feedback log, comments given at the September 30th town hall, participation in neighborhood council meetings, feedback through regular email communications and a community opinion survey conducted last fall.

Yet, the feedback log referred to is no longer accessible, the town hall was poorly attended, and the Community Advisory Group, which had been assembled in July 2019, found the initial survey vastly unrepresented the geographical area most profoundly affected by the blowout, and requested an extension of the survey that was made available to any resident, and not just the ones contacted by the consulting firm.

As for the statement itself, a majority of the CAG feels it is overly broad and seems to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. A major concern is that, despite the community insisting that the only health study that is acceptable is one that is a long-term longitudinal patient-based study. But the statement only hints that a clinical study may be undertaken by the winning research team.

The alternative to a clinical study would be an environmental risk assessment. This would have been the type of study undertaken by the AQMD, about which the community was demonstrative in their objections at a December 14, 2017 community meeting.

The CAG promises to give an in-depth examination on Monday of the Goals and Priorities to help community members foment their responses. In the meantime, the CAG’s latest mini town hall which gives a preliminary look at the statement is available on the CAG’s website. The statement itself can be found on the DPH website.

DISCLAIMER: The writer is an at-large member of the Aliso Canyon Health Study Community Advisory Group, but is speaking on behalf of herself.

Finally using her J-school degree for good. #CountdownToShutDown2020 Aliso Canyon