Eight years after a natural gas pipeline spilled 500 gallons of a potentially toxic chemical into Eight Mile, Alabama, residents continue to face health problems including seizures, nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting. 

The 2008 leak released mercaptan, whose distinct smell helps people detect such leaks. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the chemical “has been considered fairly harmless by government and industry.” Yet, the company behind the pipeline paid more than $500 million to temporarily relocate residents of another more affluent and majority White community when mercaptan and methane leaked into their backyards.

The Los Angeles Times explores this response for a project it released over the weekend. The paper investigated how government officials and Sempra Energy, which owns and operates the pipelines in both communities, treated spills in Porter Ranch, California, an affluent White community, versus in Eight Mile, a more impoverished Black community.  

In addition, the article notes how Eight Mile residents are suing the company, with three lawsuits out of 14 still pending.

Per the LA Times:

Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, an urgent care physician in Porter Ranch, said he has been conducting his own research on mercaptan’s health effects since the Aliso Canyon leak.

“Mercaptan is toxic to the human body,” Nordella said. “The question is exposure—how much and for how long?”

Exactly how the chemical affects human health is unclear, though at least three workers have died after exposure to extremely high levels of methyl mercaptan, one of several variations of the chemical, according to reports by two federal agencies.

In Eight Mile, some residents have moved to stay away from the potential health dangers, but most of the 3,000 residents can not leave. The town’s median income is $35,000, more than $8,000 below the state median, says the Times. Conversely, Porter Ranch’s median income is $105,602—higher than the California median income.

According to the Times:

Southern California Gas paid more than $500 million to temporarily relocate about 8,000 Porter Ranch families and clean more than 1,700 homes. Eight Mile residents say they got nothing approaching that assistance. Some have settled their cases with Mobile Gas for undisclosed amounts. Local media reported that most settlement payouts ranged from $3,000 to $10,000 apiece.

Residents in Eight Mile are fighting for more equitable treatment. They marched through the state Capitol last week (October 13). The governor agreed to meet with them this week.

Read the complete LA Times story here.