MALIBU — Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo Elementary campuses were tested for environmental contaminants over the weekend, nearly a month after some teachers complained the middle school campus could be causing them health problems.
Juan Cabrillo and MHS were tested for radon from Thursday to Sunday last week, while MHS was also tested for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Concerns over PCBs flared in early October when a number of MHS teachers expressed fear in a letter to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) that the diagnosis of three teachers with thyroid cancer and health problems among other teachers could be related to contaminants on campus.
Soil from the middle school quad containing elevated levels of PCBs was removed in 2011.
Radon is a radioactive gas known to cause lung cancer, which is found in many buildings, as well as soil, rock and water. The Malibu area is known to have a high, naturally occurring level of radon, and several staff requested the district test for its presence near the campuses.
Results from the testing should be available by Nov. 22, according to Mark Katchen, an environmental consultant hired by SMMUSD.
Katchen met and agreed to work with Dr. Paul Rosenfeld, an expert hired by concerned parents on the specifics of the testing, according to a press release from SMMUSD superintendent Sandra Lyon.
“The discussion was positive, productive and yielded agreement on refined testing protocols for PCBs,” Lyon said.
Katchen and the district were planning on applying standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding acceptable levels of PCB exposure in schools and the workplace to the testing results, Katchen said Tuesday in a telephone interview. Rosenfeld requested that Katchen and the district instead apply the EPA standard for residential exposure, which occurs over a longer period of time.
The two sides reached an agreement to modify the calculation, somewhere in the middle.
“With adjustment for the duration of exposure, the group agreed to test for this extremely conservative limit,” Lyon wrote in the press release.
Ken Miller, a spokesman for the group Malibu Parents for Healthy Schools, said the parents felt progress was made at the meeting but that concerns over the testing protocols were valid. Miller referenced the district’s hiring of McDaniel Lambert Inc., a Venice-based risk assessment firm that has done business for companies such as Chevron and British Petroleum and testified in defense litigation.
“They are unabashedly, undeniably a company that represents companies accused of contamination,” Miller said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “That’s who their clients are. You can call them. I don’t think they’d deny that. So their orientation is to excuse or minimize contamination.”
Miller said parents wanted to make sure that Rosenfeld would be given the opportunity to view the raw data from the testing in case there is any question about data or its interpretation.
When told of the concerns over McDaniel Lambert, Katchen said there had been a misunderstanding. McDaniel Lambert would not be involved in the test results, he said, but rather in the PCB testing protocols.
“[McDaniel Lambert] have nothing to do with the testing,” Katchen said. “The results are generated by a laboratory that comes to me. But McDaniel has nothing to do with those numbers. For ease, they already have a spreadsheet that runs these calculations. But they have nothing to do with the data.”
Katchen said that McDaniel Lambert had worked for a range of clients, also including the U.S. government and various cities.
“This is business. Dr. Rosenfeld does most of his work for the plaintiff’s side. I’m not casting any aspersions. We’re all scientists, we’re all trying to find the truth.
“If you stick with established EPA practices and established risk assessment practices, which we’re doing, then there’s a level of scientific integrity, then it doesn’t matter who your client is.”
Despite his concerns over testing, Miller said the parent group was pleased with the task force meeting.
“I think we were very happy with it,” he said. “We’re happy that Paul [Rosenfeld] was invited. We’re happy that the group kept working. We think it was a successful meeting. I think it should be a blueprint for how the rest of the process is conducted.”
This article originally appeared in the Malibu Times.