UCLA Receives $21 Million Grant To Study Health Effects of Aliso Canyon Gas Leak

A multidisciplinary team of UCLA scientists and health care practitioners will conduct the health study, which will consist of five components—a health and health care use assessment, exposure assessment, community engagement, data management and statistical analysis, and overall program administration.

Porter Ranch Los Angeles Aerial
An aerial view of Aliso Canyon.
Source: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

A University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) research team has received a 5-year, $21 million grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to study the health consequences of the 2015–16 Aliso Canyon gas leak disaster.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists, public health experts, and health care practitioners will study the devastating gas blowout, which was the largest underground gas storage facility disaster in US history. Over a period of nearly 4 months, an estimated 109,000 metric tons of methane and oil and gas constituents were released into the atmosphere. The purpose of the health study is to evaluate the short- and long-term health effects of the blowout.

At the time, roughly 232,200 people lived within a 5-mile radius of the facility, which is in the northwest San Fernando Valley. Residents reported foul odors and oily mists and said they experienced a range of symptoms, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, nose bleeds, coughing, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.

The study’s principal investigators are Michael Jerrett, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and Honghu Liu, chair of the section of public and population health at the UCLA School of Dentistry and a professor at the Fielding School and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“People living close to the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility have legitimate questions about how emissions from the facility might affect their health now and in the future,” Jerrett said. “We have brought together a team of the world’s best scientists to investigate the environmental and health impact of the facility, including physical and mental health, quality of life, and overall well-being throughout their life course. We will focus on studying health impacts from the blowout disaster in 2015–2016 and from the routine emissions from the facility. The outcomes of these studies will be exceptionally important and also at times, very complex. We will present these findings in a clear and approachable way to provide the information needed by residents, regulators, and policymakers to understand the disaster impacts and take actions when needed.”

The team of UCLA researchers and consultants includes subject-matter experts who have experience in exposure assessment and advanced modeling methods, clinical evaluations, and data processing and integration.

The study will be overseen by a scientific oversight committee, which is a panel of independent scientific experts and regulatory agency representatives, with additional stakeholder input from a community advisory board.  Public Health will serve in an administrative contract oversight and monitoring capacity.

“I’d like to thank the scientific oversight committee and the panel of scientific and medical experts whose efforts enabled the solicitation and selection of this stellar research team,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health. “With the researchers in place, we are on the path to scientifically investigate unanswered questions and concerns raised by the communities that were impacted by the Aliso Canyon disaster.”

The contract will commence this month, and the health study is set for a 5-year term, with the option to extend it for up to five additional 1-year periods.