Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Southern California Gas Co. was ordered by a judge Friday to offer cleaning services to the owners of thousands of Porter Ranch-area houses affected by the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, after which residents will have 48 hours to move back home.

The ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Wiley signals an end to the drawn-out relocation program prompted by the gas leak, which began Oct. 23 but was capped on Feb. 18. SoCalGas has been funding temporary housing for thousands of residents, and attorneys said last month it was costing the utility about $1.8 million a day.

The company has been pushing for an end to the housing program since February, but attorneys for the county have repeatedly gone to court to block such a move, saying it wanted to ensure there were no lingering health threats from the massive gas leak.

Wiley ordered today that the housing program can end, but SoCalGas must at least offer cleaning services to owners as many as 2,500 homes. Once the homes are cleaned — or the service is declined — residents will have 48 hours to move out of their temporary housing and return home.

The decision was a victory for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which announced last week that its environmental testing found no airborne contaminants, but surface dust contained “low levels of metal contaminants” consistent with those found in “well-drilling fluid,” suggesting they came from the leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.

“These metals do not pose long-term health risks but can cause respiratory and skin irritation and could be contributing to symptoms reported by residents,” according to health officials.

In response to the results, the agency recommended a “comprehensive cleaning” of household surfaces, thorough ventilation of homes to flush out contaminants, regular replacement of heating and air-conditioning filters and proper maintenance of air purifiers.

Health officials also issued a directive that Southern California Gas Co. foot the bill for such cleaning, but the utility objected to the requirement.

SoCalGas and the county submitted a memo to the court earlier this week saying both sides had agreed that the temporary housing program should end — but they asked that Wiley decide whether the Gas Co. should be forced to pay for the cleaning.

SoCalGas argued that residents should be forced to return home by the end of this weekend, while the county countered that the utility should first provide the cleaning, then give them another five days after the clean-up to move in.

Wiley instead ordered that residents return home within 48 hours after the cleaning.

— Staff and wire reports

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