More than 2,000 residents affected by a natural gas leak above Porter Ranch attended a community meeting Wednesday night hosted by environmental activist Erin Brockovich.
Brockovich was made famous by successfully battling Pacific Gas and Electric Co. over groundwater contamination in the community of Hinkley in the Inland Empire in 1996. She became the namesake of a 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts.
Brockovich, who lives in Agoura Hills, told the audience at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch she was their neighbor.
“I feel compelled to be here and to help my neighbor,” she said. “I certainly understand your plight and that we all have so much in common.”
Brockovich brought an attorney from law firm Weitz & Luxenberg — where she works, a law firm spokeswoman said — a meteorologist and a water pollution expert who gave about an hour presentation and answered questions from residents.
Residents asked about health concerns and whether air filtration systems installed on their homes by the gas company would be effective.
More than 3,600 residents have left their homes or are in the process of relocation due to the odors emitted by a leaking gas well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains above Porter Ranch. Mercaptan, an additive to natural gas that smells like rotten eggs, has caused symptoms of nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, respiratory problems and stomach discomfort among residents.
Southern California Gas Co. discovered the leaking well on Oct. 23. Officials have said it could take four months to cap the leak. Because the leak will likely drag on for months, county health officials have begun to monitor chemicals, some that are known carcinogens, in natural gas because those chemicals can cause long-term health effects. So far, the levels monitored have not reached a level of concern.
Attorney Robin Greenwald said she expects to file a lawsuit next week. She said the firm plans to file a mass tort, which will consist of individual lawsuits rather than a class-action lawsuit, which has already been filed by attorney R. Rex Parris. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has also filed a lawsuit against Southern California Gas Co. The county will explore joining the lawsuit.
The law firm brought retainer agreements for residents to sign or consider and questionnaires and suggested they use a daily journal to keep track of their symptoms as well as costs incurred because of the gas leak. At the direction of county health officials, SoCal Gas is reimbursing residents for relocation, meals and travel expenses.
Brockovich encouraged the residents to be united.
“I can tell you when we all stick together, things will go better,” Brockovich said. “I know there’s confusion and chaos, a lot of mistrust is happening. It’s important, and I share this with communities often, that you realize Superman’s not coming; we’re going to have to start saving ourselves.”
Greenwald said the firm is considering filing a temporary injunction that would require LAUSD to relocate the two Porter Ranch schools. She asked residents to help come up with a place where the schools could be relocated.
“It’s time to try to find a solution,” she said.
L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander, who spoke at the meeting, said he did not endorse any particular litigation or any experts, but he welcomed them. He said the looming question has been: “Where’s our governor?”
“I don’t know why he hasn’t been here on-site,” Englander said. “He’s the only one that can actually really declare a state of emergency.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said Wednesday that he will ask the Board of Supervisors to declare a state of emergency, which they will take up at next week’s meeting.
This article was written by Sarah Favot from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.