Malibu Schools Want 5 Year Delay in Toxic PCB Cleanup
Students and Teachers Would Remain in Unsafe Classrooms Until 2024 Demolition
Washington DC — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is seeking to significantly postpone the effective date of a 2016 federal court order directing removal of illegal levels of hazardous chemicals in its Malibu classrooms and facilities. If granted, the legal motion would keep students and teachers inside dangerously contaminated buildings until December 31, 2024, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and America Unites for Kids.
In September 2016, the groups won a federal court order requiring the District 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. PCBs are classified as a probable carcinogen and are linked to lower IQ, interference with brain and body development, as well as neurological, endocrine and thyroid disruption.
Ironically, the District points to the passage of Measure M, a bond measure funding Malibu school facility improvements, as its justification to go back to court for the extension. The District claims it should not have to remediate buildings that may ultimately be torn down. However, the District as yet has no plan for the school overhaul and is not committed to replacing all of the contaminated buildings.
“The District’s latest maneuver would result in more than a decade of illegal exposure of students, teachers, staff and others to PCB-contaminated rooms since PCBs were first found,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that there are immediate, safe alternatives that would prevent funds from being wasted. “There is no public interest in continuing to poison teachers and students.”
The District filed its motion in the middle of the Woolsey Fire that burned down 10% of the homes in Malibu and while residents were still under mandatory evacuation. Despite these obstacles, in the short time the groups had to file an opposition, they gathered and filed affidavits from 42 teachers (more than half), as well as several parents and students, all distressed at the prospect of several more years of toxic exposure and at being blindsided by the District’s motion. They considered it a breach of trust for the District put saving money over their health. The District has already spent several million dollars on lawyers and consultants to resist cleaning up the PCBs.
The groups also filed an affidavit from a public health expert who concludes:
There is a major flaw in all of the PCB analyses that has been done at the site which…undermines the District’s claims that their air samples demonstrate that the conditions at the Malibu Schools are “safe” for teachers and students.
There clearly remain elevated and dangerous levels of PCBs in the buildings, and these buildings should not be occupied until the PCBs have been removed.
Furthermore, the school district’s own recent testing shows extensive additional PCBs above legal limits in other building materials including paint, sealant, floor tiles and related adhesives, as well as in concrete slabs and painted brick.
“People voted for Measure M to get children and teachers out of toxic PCB classrooms, not to confine them in dangerous conditions for another half-decade,” said Jennifer de Nicola, a Malibu High School parent who is President of America Unites for Kids. “The declarations filed show that the District kept its plan to file this five-year extension motion from the teachers and its own the advisory and bond committees. They are now trying to relitigate other terms of the Court’s order to do even less of the Judge’s required protections for teachers and students. I have to agree with the community, this is a distressing breach of trust.”
It is now up to U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson to decide whether his 2016 injunction should be modified.