CITYWIDE — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will check every school in the district for potentially cancer-causing contaminants following reports of health problems at the Malibu High School campus.
The district’s environmental consultant, Environ, and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control were on hand at a special Board of Education meeting Wednesday night to discuss the plan.
Last year, three Malibu teachers were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A group of 20 teachers wrote a letter to the district complaining of different health problems.
In November, the district had several rooms on the Malibu campus tested for a range of toxins, including PCBs, a carcinogenic contaminant.
PCB levels in several caulk and dust samples were high enough to trigger Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) involvement.
Over winter break rooms were tested, cleaned, and tested again. Some of the PCB levels in the air and dust were reduced. Some parents questioned the results because rooms were tested with the windows open. EPA officials deemed the testing and cleaning acceptable.
On Wednesday, Environ officials discussed their plans, which are pending EPA approval. They hope to begin the remediation process at the Malibu schools over summer break.
PCBs were used in building materials for much of the 20th century and were banned in 1979. Throughout the country, in New York City in particular, school districts have been dealing with PCB contamination.
Dr. Doug Daugherty of Environ explained that the PCB situation at every district school, including Santa Monica schools, would be considered. Because PCBs were banned from building materials in 1979, Daugherty said, they will only be reviewing renovation records of buildings constructed before 1981.
If a pre-1981 school building has no record of a renovation that resulted in PCB removal then Environ will conduct an inspection. Environ officials didn’t discuss the nature of the inspection.
“The overall premise of the plan is we could spend a lot of time testing 18 or 19 schools in the district and every piece of caulk,” Daugherty said. “Many schools are approaching it, let’s just assume that certain materials may have PCBs. Let’s find out where they are, what kind of condition they are in, and figure out what we’re going to do with it.”
If high levels of PCBs are discovered in a Santa Monica school building it could trigger EPA involvement.
If PCBs are found, but not at levels deemed unacceptable by the EPA, Environ could “manage in place,” covering the PCB-filled walls with a protective epoxy until there is a planned renovation or demolition of the area.
When levels do exceed the EPA’s regulatory framework, the district is not allowed to wait indefinitely to remove the PCB-laden material, Environ officials said.
On the Malibu campus renovation is planned for the Blue Building and demolition is planned for the Great White Building – both areas where high levels of PCBs were found. These actions need to be approved by the Coastal Commission. If the commission does approve the project, work could start nine to 12 months later.
A group of Malibu residents expressed opposition to many district and government practices, including the “manage in place” technique and the EPA’s definition of acceptable amounts of PCBs. Others have questioned the district’s communication throughout the process.
Light ballasts are one of the primary sources of PCBs in many districts, Environ officials said.
“We removed those I don’t know how many years ago, for other reasons, but fortunately for us that source is gone,” said Boardmember Laurie Lieberman, “so I think the concern is about caulk and other building materials.”