MALIBU HIGH SCHOOL — It’s going to be a busy winter break for the Malibu school campuses.
Several rooms at the high school and middle school will be tested for cancer-causing PCBs, cleaned, and tested again all before the end of the break, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon announced in a letter to parents and staff Thursday night.
The safety of the Malibu High School campus has been questioned since October when 20 staff members, including three diagnosed with thyroid cancer, wrote a letter to the district complaining of a variety of health-related issues.
The district shuttered a building and several classrooms before taking PCB samples from the air, dust, and caulk at dozens of locations throughout the school. The air samples came back clean, but the dust and caulk samples contained PCB levels high enough to trigger Environmental Protection Agency oversight. One caulk sample, taken from the exterior of a library window, was found to have 37 times the amount of PCB required to trigger the agency’s involvement.
At a Board of Education meeting earlier this month, officials with the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control told board members and parents that the campus is safe. Exposure to the PCB-laden caulk itself does not increase a cancer risk, they said. As the caulk deteriorates and the particles enter the air, the risk increases. Because the air samples came back clean, there is no immediate threat, they said.
An initial release from Lyon stated prematurely that the EPA had approved the proposed testing and cleaning, which will be done by National Response Corp. She later clarified, in a second letter, that the EPA had not yet reviewed the proposed testing at that time of the initial release.
EPA representative Steve Armann sent a letter to the district Friday approving the plans under the condition that all windows in the tested rooms remain closed and that the district notify the EPA three days before the final air testing. The EPA plans to send a representative to perform independent testing to ensure quality control.
The plans, proposed by the district’s consultant Mark Katchen, asked that the air samples be taken with windows open.
Today and tomorrow, air samples will be taken from many rooms that were not previously tested, Lyon said in her letter.
“EPA is not requesting this testing,” she said. “The district is undertaking the work to provide further assurances to the community as we return teachers and students to the previously vacated classrooms.”
From Monday through Jan. 5 rooms will be cleaned for dust. Air and dust samples will be taken to ensure the rooms are safe.
All students return to school on Jan. 6.
At past meetings parents have expressed concern that a cleaning could stir up PCBs from the dust particles or the degrading caulk.
The EPA’s oversight is not required for this type of testing.
“It is important to note that this interim plan is separate from the cleanup plan necessary to address PCB impacted caulk at Malibu H.S,” Armann said in his letter.
The district is still required to submit plans for caulk remediation and that cleaning will require EPA oversight.
Paula Dinerstein, a representative of the Washington D.C. based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sent an e-mail to the EPA, asking, among other things, if the district has chosen an EPA-certified contractor to perform the clean-up.
Lyon mentions at the beginning of her letter that parents and teachers have expressed a desire to return to shuttered classrooms. After the cleaning, teachers will get the go-ahead to use the rooms.
“The timing of when teachers choose to return to their classrooms will be left to the teacher, as we do not want to unnecessarily further disrupt instruction,” she said in the letter. “I will trust and rely on our teachers’ judgment on working out that schedule.”
The district is soliciting companies to perform soil testing and more air testing. The deadline for the applications was Friday. The selection will be made next month.