Amid ongoing concerns stemming from the discovery of chemicals at Malibu schools, the Santa Monica-Malibu school district is working to adjust its approach to hazardous materials and environmental safety.
The local Board of Education last month discussed changes to district policies and best practices, including specific references to polychlorinated biphenyls.
Last revised in 2009, the SMMUSD best practices regarding hazardous substances are intended to reflect updated recommendations from the California School Boards Association.
“The Board of Education desires to provide a safe school environment that protects students and employees from exposure to potentially hazardous substances that may be used in the district’s educational program and in the maintenance and operation of district facilities and equipment,” reads the new language.
The discussion came as the district continues talks with Malibu advocates about the possible split of SMMUSD into separate Santa Monica and Malibu entities.
Meanwhile, the board considered new language in its best practices for environmental safety. Ramboll Environ, which the district hired to handle chemical testing at Malibu schools, was consulted regarding the language pertaining to PCBs.
According to the best practices document, the district’s plan for environmental safety should now include “reducing the potential exposure of building occupants to PCBs at school sites to acceptable levels in accordance with [Environmental Protection Agency] requirements.”
EPA guidelines include removing and disposing of potentially harmful fluorescent light ballasts, testing for “potential PCB-containing caulk, paint and other PCB-containing building materials during planned renovations and repairs” or removing materials that “may be assumed to contain PCBs at regulated levels.”
There was some debate among board members and district officials over which government agencies to rely on for recommendations on hazardous materials.
According to the proposed language, the district would rely on City of Santa Monica suggestions for cleaning products and other environmental issues.
But board member Craig Foster said the City of Malibu, which he believes is “more progressive” than the City of Santa Monica on environmental matters, should be consulted instead.
The district’s acting facilities director, Carey Upton, said the City of Santa Monica’s information about environmentally friendly products was “so much more readily available” than the City of Malibu’s. He said he didn’t have a clear idea of the key differences between the cities on their recommendations for certain products.
Upton said the district partnered with Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment several years ago to replace its cleaning supplies with more eco-friendly substitutes.
“We were a lead agency in a statewide effort,” Upton said. “Our cleaning products are ahead in that way.”
Jan Maez, the district’s chief financial officer, suggested including the City of Malibu as an additional reference point for questions on environmental issues.
Board member Oscar de la Torre said a parent asked him about chemicals in fertilizers used at district sites.
“We’ve been very careful about what soil we bring on our campuses,” Upton said. “It’s something in our consciousness.”
New language included in the district’s best practices on hazardous substances also covers protocol for science classrooms. There should be “specific measures to ensure the safety of students and staff in school laboratories where hazardous materials are used,” according to the document, including a chemical hygiene plan and instruction to students about handling chemicals.