The discovery of additional toxic material in Malibu schools has prompted the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to reconsider and possibly delay clean-up efforts.
While in the process of PCB abatement in Malibu High School, the chemicals were found in more building materials than the initially identified window and door caulkings. Staff said the discovery could warrant a more extensive program and asked the Board to provide direction on continuing the current effort or halting removal while a more comprehensive approach is considered.
The school district must remove polychlorinated biphenyls from two Malibu sites by the end of 2019, according to a 2016 court order. The PCB saga has dogged the district for years and culminated in a lawsuit. The district claimed the ruling validated its modernization plans, which include the replacement of windows and doors in buildings constructed before 1979. Critics said the ruling proved the widespread existence of potentially harmful chemicals at the school sites.
The court order only required removing PCBs in window and door caulking. However over 50 parts per million (ppm) of PCBs were discovered in old flooring and a glue used to install tile flooring, with additional PCB levels found in plywood walls in a shop building, concrete in the admin building and library, and caulking around air vents in the school’s Main two-story building.
Carey Upton, Chief Operations Officer for the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, led the investigation and abatement of PCBs.
With ongoing modernization efforts and the district looking towards the future into a “21st century”-style classroom with Inquiry-Based Learning models, Upton posited slowing or stopping the PCB abatement process to “totally remake” Malibu’s campus.
Upton asked the Board for direction in what options to take next, providing the board with four options:
Current plan: Complete all modernization (court order window and door replacement; complete modernization of pre-1979 buildings; complete other planned PCB abatement projects; improve “ineffective spaces” such as Malibu’s old gym, theater, science labs), meet court-ordered deadline, costs $10-15 million. “The caveat is we’d find new things to discover,” Upton said, in reference to more repairs, proposed changes, and possibly more PCBs.
Wait Plan: Cease work. “We would either need to stop using (PCB detected) buildings by December 31, 2019 or go back to court and make a request from the judge to give us more time or other considerations,” said Upton. It would save funds, costing less than $500k, according to Upton.
PCB Only Plan: “We’d go in and get rid of PCBs over 50ppm where we know now. Windows, doors, floors, G building (Special Ed, Shop) with walls, air vents and replacement in building D (Main two-story building),” said Upton. “If we start in summer, we could meet the court order.” Would cost the district around $5-7 million.
PCB Only Court: Just windows and doors with PCBs are replaced. “If we just do that, we would start this summer. Definitely by January. Those who still have concerns about PCBs, it would still be in places we’ve identified,” said Upton. He said it would cost $3-5 million but the cost might be reduced after conversations with the judge.
Upton said that the school’s spaces are “health-protective as they are,” adding they’ve done extensive air and wipe sampling to demonstrate there’s no exposure or potential for exposure to PCBs in schools as they are, even with PCBs currently there.
“It’s not a health-protective question,” Upton said, “As much as it’s a question of how can we meet our responsibilities as far as the court order and move our campus towards where we need to be to give our students a better learning situation.”
The Board unanimously agreed to direct staff to fully explore stopping or slowing PCB replacement and modernization efforts while also considering remaking Malibu High.
This discussion will continue at a May 3 meeting planned for Malibu City Hall.