Claims about unhealthy levels of benzene that were reported in and around the Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage field swirled through a Porter Ranch community meeting last Wednesday as some residents seek to shut the facility down permanently.

Activist groups Save Porter Ranch and the Food & Water Watch (F&WW) used the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meeting to make their case against the 86 Bcf capacity facility, but SoCalGas officials discounted a report about benzene by a local physician as “inaccurate and misleading” information.

F&WW’s Alexandra Nagy cited a deposition of SoCalGas’ May Lew, principal engineer in the SoCalGas Engineering Analysis Center, who she said testified that benzene levels at Aliso were above safe levels.

Benzene deposits were characterized at 1,000-9,000 times above levels considered acceptable by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).

The elevated benzene levels were reported by physician Jeffrey Nordella, who has monitored residents for benzene derivatives during Aliso’s four-month-long leak from October 2015-February 2016.

However, SoCalGas spokesperson Christine Detz said OEHHA concluded that “all measured benzene emissions from concentrations in the Porter Ranch community during the leak are similar to background levels generally found in the Los Angeles area.”

When methane was leaking at the facility, “thousands of air, soil, and dust samples were tested by multiple public health agencies, including the Los Angeles County Department of Health, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, California Air Resources Board and OEHHA,” Detz said.