Kern County officials said Friday that lifting the mandatory evacuation on eight Arvin homes was the right thing to do, even though testing for toxins has yet to be completed.
The homes on Nelson Court were evacuated March 18 due to a high levels of potentially explosive gas. About three dozen people were displaced.
On Thursday the Kern County Fire Department deemed the homes no longer at risk of explosion.
Concern by the county and displaced families has shifted, however, to whether the gas leak may have saturated the homes and yards with toxins that could affect residents' health, said Donna Fenton, director of Kern County Environmental Health.
Petro Capital Resources LLC, the company that owns the pipeline, shut off gas flow to the line, which runs beneath Varsity Avenue, once the leak was discovered. PCR conducted a health risk assessment, which found the homes safe. But the families wanted a second opinion from an independent source paid for by the county. The county agreed and hired an outside company, but that testing has yet to be finished.
In all this time, the county did not re-test the neighborhood for explosive levels of gas until last week, Fenton said.
"We were waiting for what we thought was the final results (from companies) hired by PCR," Fenton said. "We did not know the residents were not going to accept that as a final review."
Fenton said even if the residents were to go home now and there were trace amounts of toxic gases in their homes, it would not be high enough to impact their health. They would have to be exposed for a "long term," she said, though she didn't define what "long term" was.
Residents had complained of headaches and nosebleeds for sometime before the pipeline leak was discovered. It's not known how long the line was leaking.
Since the evacuation, PCR has been paying residents' expenses and it has agreed to continue while the county health risk assessment is underway.
Friday afternoon, Cliff Rechtschaffen, a senior policy advisor for the Governor's Office, spoke with Kern Public Health Director Matt Constantine about the status of the county's testing and how the state could help speed up the process to put residents back into their homes.
Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall and Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez could not be reached Friday.