PORTER RANCH (CBSLA.com) – Susie Kimmel was in her hospital bed suffering from bladder and bone cancer.
She's was a teacher for 27 years at Castlebay Lane Elementary School in Porter Ranch.
The school is just miles from the historic Aliso Canyon methane leak that began in October 2015 and was not capped until February 2016. It emitted 109,000 metric tons of methane and displaced at least 7,000 Porter Ranch area residents for months. It also led to mass complaints of health issues ranging from headaches to cancer.
"I have two grandkids and one on the way," Kimmel said. "My kids need me and I need them."
One year after the leak, Susie was diagnosed with her cancer.
"That's when I started getting all my symptoms, rashes, headaches, I would have shortness of breath, my ears would ring it was terrible," Kimmel said.
However, looking back, Susie believed the staff and students may have already been in danger, not just during the big gas leak, but for years before that. She wonders if some of the millions of gallons of gas stored in the Aliso Canyon facility may have been released into the air for years.
"I was calling my school office in the building because it was hard to breathe," Kimmel said. "I would call the office and say my room smells like gas, the hallway smells like gas."
Documents obtained by CBS2 may back up her claim. According to 14 years' worth of emission records from the state, dozens of chemicals were measured in the air near the storage facility. One of them is formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause cancer. There was a spike in the levels of formaldehyde from 2000 to 2014, the year before the gas leak.
Michael Kleinman, a professor of environmental medicine at UC Irvine, said some of these spikes are above what he considers safe.
"Formaldehyde is a matter of a concern, because formaldehyde … is classified as a human carcinogen," Kleinman said. "It's a chemical that has a number of health effects, including cancer."
"I would certainly be concerned about living there," Kleinman added regarding the Porter Ranch neighborhood.
With more than 100 deep underground wells, Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage site in the West. However, the SoCalGas facility has been crippled since the blowout was discovered.
Meanwhile, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which had the emission records on its website, says it has analyzed chemical levels during random years and found them to be safe. Although, SCAQMD couldn't provide any reports.
"Our evaluations have found that the potential health impacts from this facility based on air toxics emissions is very low," said Jo Kay Ghosh, a health effects officer with SCAQMD.
I think they're lying to people," Kimmel said. "They keep saying it's safe, it's safe."
Kimmel was one of six Castlebay Lane teachers diagnosed with cancer since 2007. She put up a valiant fight, with doctors even having to remove her lower spine.
After her interview with CBS2, Kimmel was moved to hospice. She passed away two weeks ago.
"Susie was one of my very best friends," her friend Cindy Simmons told CBS2. "She's a mother, a phenomenal mother, a most creative, energetic teacher."
SoCalGas provided CBS2 the following statement Tuesday.
"Aliso Canyon is in compliance with all permit conditions relating to formaldehyde. Moreover, SoCalGas is in the process of replacing natural gas turbines at Aliso Canyon which will reduce formaldehyde emissions and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the facility by about 90 percent.
"In compliance with state laws, SoCalGas files public emissions reports with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). The SCAQMD has not expressed any concerns that formaldehyde levels require any action.
"In fact, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated that the SCAQMD reported that formaldehyde was not found at elevated concentrations in the community during the gas leak."
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