Malibu High School (File photo)

The legal battle over chemicals at Malibu public schools rages on.

A federal judge last week gave life to a lawsuit that seeks the removal of polychlorinated biphenyls at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo Elementary schools.

U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson denied a request by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to dismiss the suit, which was filed in March by America Unites for Kids and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The plaintiffs, who have repeatedly criticized the school district for spending millions of dollars on consulting and legal fees over the last two years, now aim to conduct additional testing at the facilities as they urge SMMUSD officials to expedite the remediation process.

“The district has spent far more money avoiding a cleanup than a full cleanup would ever cost,” said America Unites president Jennifer deNicola, who lost a bid for a school board seat earlier this year, in a statement released after the judge’s ruling. “All our nation’s children deserve a safe learning environment free from PCBs; an education that will not jeopardize their health.”

The district expressed disappointment in the ruling, saying in a statement that it will continue to adhere to federal guidelines for chemical testing and cleanup.

“SMMUSD would have preferred that the court dismiss the lawsuit outright,” the district’s statement reads, (but) “the ruling is a sound endorsement of the Environmental Protection Agency policy regarding management of PCBs in building materials in schools, which has been closely followed by SMMUSD.”

According to the district, several rounds of testing at the Malibu campuses have shown chemical levels to be below EPA thresholds in multiple locations.

The plaintiffs, however, contend that PCBs exist in concentrations higher than allowed in the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. They have accused the district of manipulating results by leaving windows and doors open and pre-cleaning surfaces before testing.

“We are happy that the district’s attempts to obstruct our path to the courthouse have been rejected,” PEER attorney Paula Dinerstein said in a statement. “This suit is necessary because the (EPA) has failed to enforce the district’s legal obligation to remedy conditions threatening the wellbeing of both students and teachers.”

The ruling appears to set the stage for additional testing of pre-1979 buildings at the sites in question.

“The parents and teachers believe that further testing will demonstrate that PCB contamination is widespread,” the plaintiffs’ statement reads, “and that the only solution both to protect kids and teachers and to comply with the law is a thorough investigation to identify and remove all PCBs found to be at illegal levels.”

The judge’s ruling comes as the school board appears ready to explore separating the district into Santa Monica and Malibu factions. The idea has gained popularity among Malibu activists who are dissatisfied with the district’s handling of chemical testing and its recently implemented centralized fundraising system.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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