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Calif. firefighters sue SoCalGas over health problems after Aliso Canyon leak


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Calif. firefighters sue SoCalGas over health problems after Aliso Canyon leak

Los Angeles firefighters filed a lawsuit against Southern California Gas Co., saying the natural gas utility knowingly exposed them to dangerous levels of chemicals as they helped residents during the massive gas leak in 2015-2016 at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.

In an Oct. 15 filing to state Superior Court in Los Angeles, the firefighters argued that the Sempra Energy utility told them the leaked gas was "not toxic" and did not pose any health risks but knew that the leak released harmful chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. Due to the lack of warning and reassurances of safety from SoCalGas, the firefighters entered the affected community without any protective gear, according to the complaint.

The suit was filed on behalf of 29 firefighters with the Los Angeles Fire Department and seven spouses. SoCalGas, Sempra and 100 unnamed individuals are the defendants.

The firefighters experienced nosebleeds, migraines, dizziness, breathing difficulties and other health issues, with some battling cancer, the lawsuit said.

The complaint quoted SoCalGas as saying that "the [gas leak] does not pose an imminent threat to public safety" because the damaged well was in an isolated and elevated area. However, infrared photography and reports of "visible mists," contamination and reports of health symptoms from residents showed that SoCalGas' statements were false, the filing said.

"Firefighters are already vulnerable in their work duties, and when possible, firefighters are given notice of the chemical exposures to put on proper protective gear. Near Aliso Canyon, the firefighters had no protection," the filing said. SoCalGas' withholding of information such as the composition of the gas also prevented the firefighters from providing adequate emergency rescue services, according to the suit.

Sempra did not yet have a comment on the lawsuit when reached Oct. 16. "We have been advised that a complaint has been filed against SoCalGas on behalf of certain first responders relating to the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak," a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "We have not been served with the complaint and have not yet had the opportunity to review it."

The firefighters requested awards for medical expenses, loss of earning capacity and other damages. (Case No. 18STCV00854)

SoCalGas in August reached a $119.5 million settlement with state and local government agencies in California over the gas leak, which was discovered in October 2015 and plugged early 2016.