A longtime program manager overseeing the California Public Utilities Commission’s Safety Enforcement Division is suing Sempra Energy and its subsidiary, Southern California Gas Co., alleging he came into contact with hazardous substances at the site of the Aliso Canyon methane gas leak that left him with a rare cancer.
Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, the complaint alleges the companies knowingly exposed Kenneth Bruno to dangerously high levels of cancer-causing chemicals when he was deployed to the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility to monitor the capping of the well that was the source of the October 2015 gas well blowout in Porter Ranch.
Bruno’s lawyers allege he was not properly advised on protective clothing to wear while at the well.
“Rather than fully prepare Mr. Bruno for exposure to known carcinogens such as benzene, radon, toluene and formaldehyde, Sempra told him to wear appropriate footwear and a hard hat,” according to Bruno’s attorneys.
The company also failed to instruct him to remove his contaminated clothes before returning to his car to go home to his family, causing him to acquire a rare blood cancer, hairy cell leukemia, a known risk of benzene exposure, the complaint alleges.
“Time and again, Mr. Bruno unknowingly walked into a gas chamber and he’s now suffering the health effects because of it,” plaintiff’s attorney R. Rex Parris said. “Exposing Mr. Bruno to outrageously high levels of known toxins is a despicable act, which is why we’re filing assault and battery charges against Sempra and SoCalGas. What’s even more terrible is SoCalGas’ failure to alert Mr. Bruno of his exposure to toxic chemicals which resulted in him unknowingly bringing those chemicals home to his kids.”
SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride issued a statement Tuesday saying the utility had “just been advised of the lawsuit in question and have not reviewed it or the allegations in it. However, based on the news release, it appears that the attorneys for Mr. Bruno have intentionally and irresponsibly misstated the facts with respect to air quality and public health.
“As the plaintiffs’ attorneys know, thousands of air, soil and dust samples were tested during the leak and for months afterwards by multiple public health agencies,” he said. “All the data collected and analyzed by public health officials have shown that there was and is no long-term risk to public health or safety from the gas leak.”
According to a report released on May 17, the Aliso Canyon gas leak — the biggest in U.S. history — was caused by microbial corrosion of a well casing, and SoCalGas did not conduct detailed follow-up inspections or analyses after previous leaks.
The report was conducted by Blade Energy Partners, which was tapped in 2016 by the CPUC and the state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources to perform an independent analysis of the leak’s root cause.
Bruno was tasked with hiring Blade, according to his suit, which alleges that Sempra and SoCalGas unsuccessfully tried to block Blade from obtaining key evidence about the cause of the blowout by pouring cement into the underground piping and tubing of the well.
The gas leak, which was discovered at the underground storage facility in October 2015 and continued emanating methane until February 2016, poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air. Thousands of residents in the northwest San Fernando Valley were forced out of their homes for months due to the leak.
Limited operations resumed at the facility in late July 2017 with the blessing of state regulators. Efforts by Los Angeles County officials to block the resumed operations failed in court.
A judge in February approved a $119.5 million settlement to resolve claims by several government agencies stemming from the leak, but did not resolve a still-pending class-action lawsuit involving thousands of residents who said their health and property values were damaged as a result.
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