LOS ANGELES (AP) — Firefighters who worked in and around the site of a massive natural gas leak sued the Southern California Gas Co. on Monday, saying the utility knowingly let them be exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals.
A blowout in a well at the underground Aliso Canyon storage field about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Los Angeles was discovered on Oct. 23, 2015, and took nearly four months to cap after spewing immense amounts of methane into the air. It was the largest known natural gas leak in United States history.
First responders said they went to the storage field and nearby communities without any protective gear because they were assured by Southern California Gas that there was no danger, according to the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
In fact, the utility knew that the gas contained cancer-causing benzene and formaldehyde, according to the suit.
“Toxic gas rolled down hill into the residential communities in the northern San Fernando Valley” and both firefighters and residents breathed in “oily mist,” the suit claimed.
“The firefighters suffered from, and in some cases continue to suffer from, nosebleeds, migraine headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, sleeping difficulties, and breathing difficulties. Some now battle cancer,” the suit said.
The blowout sickened residents and led to the evacuation of 8,000 homes. The suit against the gas company and its parent, Sempra Energy, alleges negligence, nuisance and fraud. It seeks unspecified damages.
“We have not been served with the complaint and have not yet had the opportunity to review it,” the gas company said in a statement.
In August, the utility reached a nearly $120 million settlement with state and local governments over the leak. It agreed to pay up to $25 million for a study of long-term health consequences; reimburse city, county and state governments for responding to the blowout; monitor chemicals in the air along the boundary of the facility for eight years; and not pass costs of the settlement along to ratepayers.