Porter Ranch: LA County wants 'several more weeks' of subsidized housing for the displaced

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Los Angeles County will ask a judge on Friday to order Southern California Gas Co. to continue paying for temporary housing for Porter Ranch residents displaced by the natural gas leak for "at least several more weeks" beyond Friday's deadline, according to a senior public health official.

If the court agrees, this will be the second time the deadline is extended. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle granted a three-week extension on Feb. 25, in response to the county's argument that it needed more time to determine why some of those who had returned home after the leak was plugged were reporting symptoms such as headaches and nausea.

KPCC reported on Tuesday that the county would seek another extension. Angelo Bellomo, deputy director for health protection at the Department of Public Health, provided the more specific time frame on Thursday.

Bellomo told KPCC the county has two reasons why it needs the extra time: To complete an analysis of a door-to-door health survey it conducted last week, and to consult with the U.S. EPA on how to design indoor air tests that it hopes will help explain why some Porter Ranch returnees are still experiencing symptoms. 

Southern California Gas has opposed any extensions, arguing that the air in and around Porter Ranch poses no health risk. Still, it says even if the judge rejects the county's request on Friday, it will pay for temporary housing for another three days, through Monday.

Bellomo said the county will provide a summary of its door-to-door survey of 210 households to the court on Friday, but will not have a complete analysis until the end of next week.

The survey and the plan to conduct indoor air tests were spurred by the more than 300 health complaints the county received from people in Porter Ranch after the well was capped on Feb. 18. Complaints included nausea, headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems.

"It is evident that the symptoms that are continuing require that we look into this deeper," said Bellomo. 

SoCal Gas spokesman Mike Mizrahi has declined to comment on the possibility of another extension, while reiterating the company's position that ongoing tests in Porter Ranch have proved that the air there "is safe to breathe," adding that "there's really no reason ... for people not to return to their homes." 

Meanwhile, the gas company has been conducting its own indoor air tests in about 75 homes this week. SoCal Gas spokeswoman Tammy Taylor said the company will release results of those screenings  at the hearing Friday.

This story has been updated.

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