A non-profit, environmental protection organization is claiming the Santa Monica Malibu School District is putting Malibu children and educators in harm’s way delaying required removal of toxic chemicals.
District officials want to combine PCB removal with other construction work on several school sites. They have said they will ask a court for an extension to the required timeline to remove PCBs and that the request will save millions in total costs. In their request, the District said the extension would allow them to remove the contaminated buildings entirely rather than just clean them.
PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) released a press release Dec. 5 claiming SMMUSD’s proposed 5-year Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) clean up extension would put students and staff in classrooms that would expose them to illegal levels of hazardous chemicals.
SMMUSD says plans are in place to prevent this and these plans were met with public approval at a recent school board meeting.
“I don’t think they believe that this is dangerous, despite what federal law says,” Jennifer DeNicola, President of America Unites for Kids said. “They don’t think they’re putting anyone in danger … We have over 50 declarations of people in Malibu that oppose this motion. [SMMUSD] have 13 months to figure this out.”
In September 2016, PEER and another group, President of America Unites for Kids, won a federal court order requiring SMMUSD to remove all PCBs from older buildings in Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School by December 2019 or cease using the toxic buildings.
In May 2018, the SMMUSD school board agreed to suspend PCB abatement at MHS due to the Malibu School Realignment that includes combining some schools, moving others to vacant locations and new construction on some campuses.
Due to the passage of Measure M, the district has the money to pursue its plans and SMMUSD has filed a motion asking the court for an extension on the PCB removal completion date.
Without the extension, the district says only PCB remediation could occur. SMMUSD argues the extension would save roughly $10 million in costs as they should not have to remediate buildings with PCB that may be torn down in the Malibu school realignment.
“We are committed to moving students and staff out of impacted facilities as soon as we can,” SMMUSD superintendent Dr. Ben Drati said in a letter to parents and staff.
Plans thus far include moving students to a new middle school building on the MHS campus, scheduled to open Spring of 2019; moving Cabrillo students and staff to Point Dume for the 2019-20 school year; moving staff to a new administrative building, currently under construction; and remediating specific facilities to reduce exposure.
Drati says in the letter that specific details regarding students and staff will be moved will be developed as part of the MHS master campus plan.
“The interest of the community is to remove PCBs throughout the site instead of just remediating, and this plan would achieve that goal,” he said. “There is some expediency to this request due to the time needed to meet the court order if our request is denied. As we previously planned, this request was made soon after Measure M was approved.”
PEER says the lack of specifics is worrisome.
“They’re asking for five years and making no commitment at all,” Paula Dinerstein, general counsel for PEER said. “Although they say they’re doing all they can, there’s no concrete plan in Malibu. It’s all tentative. They’re asking for five years to do whatever they want to do.”
Dinerstein says SMMUSD’s motion is to be filed December 10 with a potential hearing on December 17.