MALIBU — School’s out but it’s been a busy week at Malibu High School.
Preliminary air testing took place two weeks ago and raw results were released Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing those results.
Dr. Paul Rosenfeld, an environmental consultant hired by a group of Malibu parents, reviewed the results and said that the highest PCB level was not above EPA standards for schools. PCB is a cancer causing contaminant.
(Editor’s note: A previous version of this story contained an inaccurate headline. Rosenfeld never said in an e-mail to parents that the levels were “safe.”)
Concerns about PCBs and other contaminants arose back in October when three teachers announced, in a letter to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, that they had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. More than a dozen other teachers complained of negative health symptoms.
Several rooms were shuttered immediately and the district tested for various harmful chemicals. Air samples came back safe, but tests of caulk and dust were above EPA standards.
Last month the district announced they would test, then clean, then perform more tests of about a dozen rooms on campus over winter break. The cleaning has been going on all week and the post-cleaning tests will be performed this weekend.
Rosenfeld said that the highest level from the recent sampling, 96.7 nanograms of PCB per cubic meter, is significant if the testing occurred with the windows open.
Some of the rooms were tested with the windows open, Superintendent Sandra Lyon said.
“It’s not unusual for teachers to have windows open in their classrooms, especially when they are full of students and we were advised that you would want to capture some air samples that replicate actual in-use conditions of the classrooms,” she said in an e-mail.
It’s unclear if the rooms with the highest PCB values were tested with the windows open or closed.
The post-cleaning tests will be performed with the windows closed and EPA oversight. Initial post-cleaning testing plans, presented by the district’s consultant, Mark Katchen, were to be done with the windows open, but EPA officials approved the plans only under the condition that they be closed.
Earlier this week, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, called for the district to fire Katchen, complaining of a lack of transparency surrounding health concerns. Testing with the windows open, PEER said in a release, renders the results useless.
PEER also claims that the PCB testing is a red herring, drawing attention away from what they say is the larger issue of soil testing.
“Confining testing to PCBs found inside classroom caulk and fixtures, a wholly new concern that, while warranted because some samples exceeded federal standards, did not at all address the array of toxic chemicals found in soil across the campuses,” the PEER release said.
In 2011, the district performed a soil remediation project during which a number of hazardous chemicals were identified in the soil.
Last month, officials from the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) said that the soil testing had not required state oversight but that preliminary review of the documents looked safe. The DTSC does plan to perform further soil testing.
The district has been closed and Lyon has been out of the office, but she did respond to a Daily Press e-mail on Friday saying that cleaning has gone “very well” thus far.
“We did clean all of the rooms over the break with (best management practices) so that teachers and students can return to their original classrooms with confidence,” she said.
Results from this weekend’s post-cleaning testing will be available around Jan. 14, Lyon said before winter break.
Students and teachers will return to classrooms on Monday.