Washington, DC — During World War II, the U.S. Army conducted training on land occupied or adjacent to the current Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School sites, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The military operations may explain the extensively contaminated soils found on campus during a 2011 environmental assessment and soil removal project. That contamination has neither been explained nor further investigated.
In a letter today to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, PEER again stressed the need to conduct a site assessment covering the entire three-school campus to determine the extent and the source of toxic chemicals. The District is in the process of finalizing a contract for environmental testing on the campuses with a firm called Environ International.
In the months after the attack at Pearl Harbor, concern about a Japanese incursion on the California coast was acute. Based upon published reports and interviews with long-time residents who were present during those years, the U.S. Army opened a training center in the area and fenced off much of the coastal area. Besides regular beach patrols, military impacts in the area included –
- Artillery training, possibly supported by an ammunition and supply depot located directly atop the present Malibu High School;
- An Army motor pool on the site; and
- The schools were built on fill which may have come from Point Dume where the artillery practice was conducted.
In addition, training films indicate the U.S. Navy conducted target practice for its P-38 fighter planes over Malibu. The area hosted anti-aircraft batteries, a radar station, look-out posts and a Coast Guard base. Even after the war, records indicate that Grumman Hellcat drones were flown over the area as targets for guided missile during the 1950’s.
“Formerly Used Defense Sites, some dating back to World War I, represent one of the biggest toxic challenges facing the country,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein whose organization is representing teachers at the schools concerned about the lack of toxic remediation in their workplaces. “Chemicals from munitions or other military uses may explain why so many toxins at such dangerous levels were found in the soil on campus.”
Nationally, there are an estimated 16,000 former military ranges, depots and other sites contaminating up to 40 million acres of land, an area larger than the State of Florida, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency briefing papers obtained by PEER. While Malibu is not on any current “Formerly Used Defense Site” (FUDS) clean-up list, new sites are still being discovered across the country.
Despite calls for a campus-wide assessment, including the soil, previous consultants to the District have focused on PCBs found in window caulk inside classrooms. Meanwhile teachers are reporting health problems, including thyroid cancers, which are unlikely to be explained solely by contact with window caulk.
“Since October, the District has spent $500,000 on environmental testing, consultants and lawyers but has yet to answer any of the questions raised by teachers, parents or students,” Dinerstein added, pointing out that neither the contract nor the work-plan for the new testing firm has yet to be publicly released. “Before throwing more money at this problem, let’s ensure the new testing will produce tangible results.”