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Porter Ranch gas leak becomes one of nation’s largest disasters

It’s been a little more than three months since natural gas began leaking in Porter Ranch. The glaring lack of information disseminated to residents, nearby communities and the Los Angeles Basin, in general, has led to uncertainty about everyone’s long-term health.

So far, some 2,600 families have temporarily fled their homes because of the toxic, sickening fumes from the Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains which have inundated a considerable portion of the northwest San Fernando Valley and is slowly wafting its way 56 miles toward Lancaster and Palmdale. Residents in northern Los Angeles County have expressed concerns about what this poisonous cloud of gas is doing to them, their children, pets and the environment. They want to know about the prolonged exposure to methane and what other chemicals—some of which are known carcinogens—eminating from the leak are doing not only to their bodies but those of the unborn.

‘Shut it down! … Shut it down!’

Los Angeles County health officials have cautioned that levels of chemicals tracked to date in Porter Ranch are not believed to be associated with health problems, but some independent experts say that benzene—a highly carcinogenic chemical compound in natural gas—could prove harmful over long periods of time. Southern California Gas Co. has 115 wells at its Aliso Canyon facility; the one leaking is about 40 years old and won’t be plugged until late February. Meanwhile, a continuous cloud of gas is hovering over the region and more people each day are complaining of nausea, headaches, vomiting and other issues associated with breathing mercaptan, a sulfur-like odor that smells like rotten eggs which is mixed with natural gas. You can’t smell natural gas, that’s why this ingredient is added so that leaks can be quickly be detected.

Shouts of “Shut it down! … Shut it down!” have made national headlines since last fall. A host of lawyers have come onboard, including the R. Rex Parris Law firm in Lancaster, to represent displaced residents who have not been able to return home and, once they do, may find that their entire property inside and out is contaminated. The Parris firm, and a number of regulatory agencies, are pointing the finger at Southern California Gas Co. and its owner Sempra Energy.

Leak may be largest in U.S. history

Today’s trend toward a more “green” environment is being challenged by the gas leak. It is estimated that the leak has released the equivalent of 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide since it was reported in October. Scientists at UC Davis say that figure amounts to more greenhouse gas than 44,000 cars emit in one year. One of the scientists, Stephen Conley, flew over Porter Ranch late last year and detected methane levels as high as 50 parts per million. He said he had to double check his instruments, after that measurement.

“This is probably 20 times bigger than anything else we’ve measured,” Conley said, adding that so much methane has been released in three months that it’s expected to boost global warming and will likely remain in the atmosphere long after the leak is plugged. He also explained that the longer the leak remains open, the more difficult it will be for the state to reach its goal of reducing emissions of methane and other pollutants by the 40-percent minimum mark set for 2030.

Early work experience can provide youth valuable training for future

A summer job can do wonders for a teenager. Early work experience can be a critical component of preparing youth for the transition to adulthood, as well as gaining those vital “soft skills” (e.g. reliability, maturity, character) that employers look for in entry-level workers.

The early months of the year are an excellent time for teenagers to begin looking for summer employment. Such early jobs can take various forms including internships, service projects, volunteer work and, for the real “go getters,” youth-run businesses and entrepreneurship. It doesn’t matter what type of job you’re employed in, getting a start in the work world will provide numerous benefits that can be utilized for a lifetime.

Los Angeles County invests in youth

For about 10 years, the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board have worked to make youth employment a top priority. Over the years, more than 40,000 youth have received work experience during the summer months. In 2013, a unique program called “Earn and Learn” was instituted to provide youth with an opportunity to succeed in the modern workplace by participating in a mandatory 25 hours of classroom personal development training. The program is helping expose teenagers to career pathways in so-called “high-growth” employment sectors while assigning the youth to real-world workplace settings to gain valuable employment skills and to earn an income.

The county’s investment in youth employment training is designed to pay off in succeeding years. The programs they administer are designed to engage youth in training or class activities that develop those important “common sense” skills that are important in all aspects of life. Specifically, these skills are those that employers expect workers to have from day one including communication skills, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills and lifelong learning skills. However, most young people—from practically all socio-economic strata—will have a deficit in so-called “hard skills” or those attributes gained only with years of practical experience in a job setting. Therefore, organizations like the Palmdale Works Youth Job Academy teach young people how to articulate thoughts and ideas more clearly and effectively.

The ‘opportunity gap’

A new term has emerged, the summer “opportunity gap,” which has placed focus on the lack of youth job opportunities. A survey conducted last year by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 46 percent of youth who applied for summer jobs were turned down. The report revealed that this lack of early work experience contributes directly to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success—particularly for low-income students who frequently lose access to critical supports that keep them safe, healthy and engaged when school is in session. Summer work experience has been shown by agencies such as the Palmdale academy to divert youth from criminal involvement and reduce involvement in violence. They also offer a chance for young people to get their first exposure to the workplace and build financial skills they can develop throughout their lives. These benefits are only possible, according to the report, if young people can find those early job opportunities.

High cost of idle youth

The federal government has tried to step in and provide assistance to youth job training and placement programs. The Summer Opportunity Project is a multi-agency effort in partnership with the National Summer Learning Association and other participants to provide support to communities by increasing the percentage of youth in evidence-based summer opportunity programs, as well as to decrease the percentage of youth experiencing violence over the summer. More broadly, the program wants to make sure that young people have the support they need to land and keep their first job.

A federal labor department report revealed a startling gap in youth employment in terms of Whites and persons of color. Black and Latino teenagers lag far behind their peers in summer employment and also in year-round jobs. This employment gap is said to broaden as minority young men get older, making them the highest percentage of the nearly seven million youth 16-25 disconnected from school and work. This gap in mobility for teenage minorities comes at a high price for local tax payers. A county audit conducted recently found that the average cost of incarcerating a youth has soared to $233,600 a year, significantly higher than other comparable jurisdictions.