Washington, DC — The state toxics agency and school administrators have finally indicated that they will seek soil testing for toxic contaminants on the campuses of Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, according to correspondence posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). School parents and teachers represented by PEER have been urging this step for months. Now a broader organization of these groups and others, called Malibu Unites, has formed to secure comprehensive testing with community review and oversight of all testing and remediation plans.
Back in October, a group of 20 teachers wrote to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District about recent cases of thyroid cancer, rashes, migraines, hair loss and other health effects they believe arose from their work environment. It was then discovered that a contractor back in 2011 had removed over 1000 tons of soil containing organochlorine pesticides (chlordane and DDT), PCBs and other chemicals at levels well above safe levels without informing either parents or staff, although their existence was known the previous year. In November, PEER, on behalf of a now larger group of teachers, demanded comprehensive soil testing to discover the scope and source of contamination.
Since then, the District has spent an estimated $500,000 on consultants, lawyers and very limited testing of selected classrooms, but has yet to address the concerns raised by teachers, parents and students. Some teachers have refused to return to their classrooms. Now the District has engaged the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to work with yet a new contractor, called Environ International.
In an email dated March12, 2014, Maria Gillette, a DTSC specialist, told Malibu Unites:
“DTSC is proposing to conduct a Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the soil at the entire Malibu HS campus (including the Middle and Elementary Schools). The soil sampling effort will be similar, but more comprehensive than the work ARCADIS [the contractor] conducted in 2010. We anticipate the sampling methodology will include PCBs, pesticides, metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).”
In addition, after months of vague answers and misdirection, District Superintendent Sandra Lyon, in a March 10 message to the Malibu Environmental Task Force, announced that all ties had been severed with its prior environmental consultant Mark Katchen and that -
“We have made clear to Environ that further testing, including soils testing at MHS [Malibu High School] and testing at JCES [Juan Cabrillo Elementary School], must be included in the work plan.”
These assurances, however, do not specify which chemicals will be tested for in what locations, in what manner and whether any public or independent expert review will be allowed prior to and during testing. In a letter sent today on behalf of Malibu Unites and the Concerned Malibu/Cabrillo Teachers, PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein wrote “While we are pleased the District is publicly pledging to conduct soil testing, it must ensure that the testing is comprehensive and the affected communities are truly involved.”
One indication of the need for a broad range of toxic screening was raised by PEER last month concerning information about possibly extensive military operations in the area during and after World War II. In a February 25 reply to PEER, Superintendent Lyon wrote that she had relayed these issues “to Environ with direction that these concerns should inform their recommended work-plan…Environ will be asked to present all recommendations to the Board of Education in public meetings thus allowing the community to stay informed. At this time the work-plan has not yet been created.”
“Expert oversight, independent from the District, will be critical to ensuring accurate and unbiased test results and is in the best interest of all stakeholders, including the District. We urge the district to provide us our own independent oversight that reports to us and not the District,” said Jennifer deNicola, President of Malibu Unites. “We need to do a thorough investigation of all three campuses in order to determine an accurate cumulative risk so that we can protect our children and teachers and ensure they are in a healthy, clean and safe environment.”