January 11, 2016
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – In the latest disruption from the biggest methane gas leak in California history, nearly 2,000 Los Angeles children returning to class this week after winter break have been reassigned to schools outside the affected area over health concerns.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest public school system, announced the plan after students described headaches, bloody noses, nausea and breathing irritations.
Eleven-year-old Cameron Michaels said he suffered daily health problems from the gas leak. “You can’t focus, you can’t concentrate, you can’t learn at all,” he said.
Hundreds of residents have reported similar symptoms to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, a county official said. County health officials said in a report the symptoms are likely temporary.
“I hope they’re absolutely right, but I can’t take that chance,” said School Board member Scott Schmerelson, who led the student relocation effort. “I’d rather err on the side of safety.”
Schmerelson’s district includes the Porter Ranch community on the outskirts of Los Angeles near where the leak was first discovered in October in a cracked pipe at an underground storage field.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is not considered toxic. Common sources of methane emissions include wetlands and livestock operations. County health officials say the symptoms residents are describing are caused by the odorant added to natural gas.
Methane is the second-most common human-generated greenhouse gas in the United States.
The leak has accounted for about a quarter of the state’s total emissions of methane, which is seeping out of the ground at the site in amounts never before seen in California.
Southern California Gas Co, which owns the site, said drilling a relief well and repairing the broken pipe could take until late March.
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency to address the leak. On Monday, a California lawmaker announced proposed legislation that if passed will impose a moratorium on new injections of natural gas into the storage facility at Aliso Canyon, and the use of decades-old wells for production, until authorities audit the site for safety.
The proposal would also seek production restrictions at the site, though they would not interfere with “energy reliability” in the region, or with fixing the leak, the bill’s sponsor said.
Separate proposals expected over the next two weeks would push for annual inspections of similar facilities statewide, among other regulations.
Southern California Gas Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Classes were scheduled to resume on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sara Catania; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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