SMMUSD HDQTRS — A new company is being brought in to help the school district with the contamination at Malibu High School.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education picked the environmental engineering firm Environ to oversee soil testing and more air testing.

Negotiations with Environ were approved but there is no estimated cost for the contract, said Boardmember Ben Allen.

The district’s consultant, Mark Katchen, is being phased out, Allen said. Katchen’s company, the Phylmar Group, has been paid $261,000 for about three months of work, according to the board’s consent calendar.

NRC Environmental, which cleaned classrooms over winter break, was paid $82,000.

Pillsbury, the district’s legal counsel for the environmental issues in Malibu, is being paid a blended rate that ranges from $270 to $695 an hour.

Allen, who voted to select the firm and stressed that safety is his top priority, said he was concerned about what Environ may charge.

Concerns about contamination on campus arose in October when a group of Malibu High School teachers, including three that were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, sent a letter to the district questioning the safety of the campus.

Tests revealed that caulk and dust in several of the rooms contained high levels of PCBs, a cancer causing contaminant. The levels were high enough to trigger oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tests showed that the air was safe for students, according to EPA officials.

Right before students went on winter break, the district announced that it would test the rooms, then clean them and test again.

Results from the pre-cleaning tests were within EPA’s standards, Superintendent Sandra Lyon said in a release last week.

Some parents questioned those results because some of the rooms were tested with the windows open. Because teachers sometimes teach with the windows open, Lyon told the Daily Press earlier this month it was prudent to test some rooms with windows up.

Cleaning went smoothly, Lyon said, and some teachers returned to classrooms that had been shuttered.

There’s been no word on results from the second round of testing that were supposed to be returned on Tuesday.

Allen said that from what he’s heard, there’s nothing new in the data.

Phone calls and e-mails to Lyon went unreturned.

Earlier this week, the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claimed that some teachers refused to return to classrooms citing a hurried clean-up effort at the school. PEER did not say who those teachers are.

PEER called for testing for contaminants other than PCBs. They also called for soil testing.

Environ will help oversee more air and soil testing, school officials said in board meeting documents.

“The engineering firm will develop investigation plans under the oversight of, and in collaboration with, the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control,” officials said.

The EPA has been silent on the contamination issue this month. An EPA official tested some of the rooms tested by the district to ensure quality control. Last week, the EPA told the Daily Press that they needed more time to review the results.

 

dave@smdp.com

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