SMMUSD HDQTRS — Caulk tested for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at Malibu High School showed levels high enough to get the federal government involved, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon said Thursday.
On Wednesday, the school district verbally informed the Environmental Protection Agency that PCB levels were found to be greater than the regulatory limit of 50 parts per million. The EPA, which had previously been involved at an advisory level, will now oversee the district in a required cleanup plan.
PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects.
PCB concerns arose last month when several Malibu High School teachers expressed fear that the diagnosis of three teachers with thyroid cancer could be related to contaminants on campus.
The district has not released the precise results of the test, saying only that the levels are “slightly above” 50 parts per million. At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, one member of the Malibu Schools Environmental Task Force said that they would not release the results until they were peer-reviewed.
A small but vocal group of residents criticized the district during the public portion of the meeting for not making the results available. The group of about a dozen shouted at the boardmembers, claiming that there had been a cover-up.
Ingrid Peterson, a district employee who worked on the Malibu High School campus for several years, refused to leave the podium. She said that she may have thyroid cancer. After 10 minutes, the district cut her microphone and, when she refused to leave, they took a break.
Earlier this week, Lyon announced that the results of an air-sampling came back well below EPA trigger levels.
Parent Cassandra Wiseman said that testing needs to be performed on the soil.
“You did a task force to test the air,” she said. “No one was worried about the air. It’s always been about the soil. I don’t think you people should be near my children or anybody else’s.”
The district performed a PCB cleanup of the area in 2009 and 2010.
The Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), acting as an advisor to the district, did a cursory reading of the documents associated with the soil remediation project.
“The cleanup activities that were performed by (the company) seemed to be well-documented and followed a work plan,” said Tom Cota of the DTSC. “My understanding is that there was no regulatory oversight for this work plan, that it was self-directed. We looked at the cleanup numbers that were used and, in general, they used the California health hazards screening levels as cleanup goal. They’re very conservative. From that perspective, it looked good.”
It was a very preliminary reading, Cota said, and the documents need to be reviewed further. More soil testing, he said, is not out of the question.
DTSC is one of three government agencies working with the school district. The EPA is another and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is the third.
The health department distributed a health questionnaire to students and staff in the district. The questionnaires have been returned but the department has yet to compile the information into a report.
“We don’t see any overt emergency right now, anything that would tell us as a health department to say, ‘everybody out,’” said Cyrus Rangan, a health department official. “There’s nothing like that going on.”
The tested buildings remain closed to students, Lyon said. She asked for the support of the board, saying that the district doesn’t have the capacity to do all of the work and that the work would take a long time. She could not say, precisely, how long it would take.
Several boardmembers praised Lyon’s work throughout the contamination.
Lyon also suggested the district should procure a communications consultant to keep parents from feeling left out of the process.
“In hindsight, obviously around the soils testing we could have communicated better,” she said. “And we want to have a plan for solid communication going forward. It is hard to run a school district and keep everyone informed on everything that is going on all the time. We try, and I know we fall short often, so having some assistance there will be helpful.”
A two hour information session about the contamination is expected to be held at the next district meeting on Dec. 12.