Malibu High School (File photo)

Although additional testing was conducted at several campuses over the summer, the Santa Monica-Malibu school district and activist groups remain at odds over the sampling and cleanup of chemicals in old school buildings.

An issue that began with the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls in Malibu schools about two years ago continues to weigh on the district, which will likely have to defend its actions in court next year following the filing of a lawsuit by America Unites for Kids and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility earlier this year.

SMMUSD, which has spent millions of dollars on consultants and legal fees related to the Malibu controversy, has embarked on a public relations campaign in recent months to inform stakeholders of its actions at Santa Monica and Malibu sites.

In late July, the district released the results of tests it conducted at Santa Monica and Olympic high schools.

The material sampling at Samohi was done before demolition of the old technology building, where a softball field and parking lot will eventually be placed. A new $55-million science and technology facility, which features 20 classrooms, 15 science labs and an auto shop, opened last month.

None of the more than 250 samples taken at Samohi exceeded the Toxic Substance Control Act threshold of 50 parts per million, according to SMMUSD.

Testing was also done at Olympic High, where renovations are in the works on portions of four buildings. A new music classroom, a “modernized” library and computer lab are part of the $5.5-million project.

Five of the 339 chemical samples taken at the continuation school had PCB concentrations above the TSCA threshold, according to the district. The PCBs were found in paint on a metal vent at Building A and in glazing around some window frames over doorways in Building B. The materials in question would be removed, SMMUSD officials said.

News of chemical testing at Santa Monica and Olympic high schools was met with outrage by health, environmental and children’s advocates, who criticized the district for what they believe are incongruent approaches to chemical cleanup at Santa Monica and Malibu campuses.

“It is beyond ironic that safeguards for PCBs taken to landfills are more stringent than those for our classrooms,” PEER attorney Paula Dinerstein, who is part of the legal team suing the district, said in a release last month. “It is utterly baffling that classrooms set to be demolished are treated with far more care than those still occupied by teachers and students.”

Over the summer, some contaminated caulking was removed at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, according to a report from consultant firm Ramboll Environ to the district.

Malibu groups remained upset that caulking was only removed in rooms where PCBs were identified because they don’t have faith in the district’s testing practices.

The district has since done additional testing in every “regularly occupied” room at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo Elementary where samples had not yet been collected, according to a press release.

One sample included a reportable level of PCBs, according to the district, but officials stressed that it was below the designated federal threshold.

The district contends that it continues to comply with guidelines set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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