Guest commentary: Business as usual amid unusual gas leak

As a resident who both lives and works in Granada Hills within miles of the Aliso Canyon/Porter Ranch methane gas leak, I am concerned about the general lack of appreciation for and comprehensive response to this disaster and the damage it is clearly inflicting on people within the community.

I feel the severity of this issue is being under-reported in the press, perhaps because of the sheer economic impact abandoning the area might have, to the detriment of countless lives in the foreseeable future.

As a local elementary school teacher, I am astonished by what I can only describe as the ‘business as usual’ approach by the powers that be when it comes to the steady and progressive gassing that has occurred to our students and staff since the Oct. 23 leak began.

So far, almost 100,000 metric tons of methane have spilled into our atmosphere, and while more than 6,000 affluent households have had the opportunity to relocate — including nearly 2,000 children — tens of thousands of adults and young ones who live and work in surrounding zip codes remain. Presumably they will not be so fortunate.

An infrared view of the methane gas leak. (buzzfeed.com)

An infrared view of the methane gas leak. (buzzfeed.com)

People are sick. I am an able-bodied adult female without predisposition to any common allergies or ailments, and I have been experiencing increasing chronic and severe eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, nosebleeds, and mental and physical lethargy in the three months since the disaster started.

The story is the same throughout our small campus. While our school has air purifiers provided by the SoCal Gas public utility company responsible for the leak, the purifiers are not alleviating the symptoms that are being exhibited in the classroom and on the playground. Students are complaining, and complications arising from the leak are rampant, but few people in our community are willing to speak out and risk being singled out by their employers for taking action.

While I fear the disruption caused by closing down our school, postponing summer break and disrupting the lives of students, parents and colleagues until this crisis abates, I fear worse the prolonged damage to lungs, eyes, and the body’s inner-lining that continued exposure to carcinogens such as benzene and other chemicals in the surrounding air might pose.

Even if school was postponed or our school site were relocated, I’m not sure how far would be safe from the fumes at this point. Outside the 260 square-mile Valley, home to 1.8 million people? North of the Santa Susana Mountains, in Castaic? South of the Santa Monica Mountains, in Beverly Hills? Few authorities — including doctors and scientists — seem willing to speak definitively about the perils of the air we are breathing, but the evidence is clear.

A local newspaper pokes fun at those 'inhaling the gas' and listening to public relations 'clowns' regarding the leak.

A local newspaper pokes fun at those ‘inhaling the gas’ and listening to public relations ‘clowns’ regarding the leak.

Unfortunately, many students and their families have nowhere to go. Many of us cannot afford to leave – we are too dependent on our jobs to give them up, even for our health — so we remain at the mercy of the wind, the economy and any harm they cause.

I remain as one such individual, unable or unwilling to abandon my post — tied to job, students, family, and community.

I am not sure most people in my position would act any differently, by the way, because looking around — they don’t.

Sincerely,

Amy Smith

5th grade teacher

Hidden Valley Elementary School

Feb. 6, 2016

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Categories: Environment & Health

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