Malibu Schools Will Remove Known PCBs but Won’t Test for Them
Will School Act on Independent EPA-Lab Tests with Ultra-High Illegal PCB Levels?
Washington, DC — Backing off a plan to leave high levels of toxic substances inside school facilities for 15 years, Malibu school officials are now promising to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found at illegally high concentrations within a year, according to documents posted today by Malibu Unites and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The catch is that removal will take place only if “verified” test results show illegal PCB levels. However, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has no plans to further test caulk and other materials to identify the locations of additional illegal materials that must be removed.
For the past year, the Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have been roiled by discovery of illegal contaminants, including extremely high concentrations of PCBs found in window and door caulk, ventilator dust and soil. Teachers, students and alumni at the schools have come forward with health complaints that they fear may be linked to spending extended periods of time on the school campuses.
In July, the District adopted a plan that allowed PCBs above legal limits to remain inside classrooms for 15 years or more, unless the areas were renovated or demolished in the interim. In a Supplement to that plan released Friday afternoon, September 26th, it was revealed that the District has shifted to a new plan. In addition to agreeing to remove the caulking around 4 windows and one doorframe by June 30, 2015, the new plan commits to applying the same procedures to:
other buildings in the District if greater than 50 ppm [federal law requires removal of PCBs in concentrations of more than 50 parts per million] are identified and verified in building materials within other District buildings [within a period that does not] exceed one year.
In July, samples unofficially taken from several Malibu school facilities showed illegal PCB levels dramatically higher than previously reported – as much as 7400 times higher than legal limits and the highest known results for a classroom in the U.S. In September, new samples showed four more classrooms testing above the federal TSCA limit of 50 ppm. One classroom tested at 231,000 ppm (more than a quarter of the caulk consisted of PCB) while another contained 146,000 ppm.
“These extremely high PCB readings come from EPA-certified independent laboratory testing facilities,” said Jennifer deNicola, President of Malibu Unites, a non-profit comprised of parents, scientists and citizens for safe schools. “We want to know whether the District will accept and act on these additional ‘verified’ samples.” Kurt Fehling, an expert consultant to Malibu Unites added, “These buildings may be causing significant, harmful PCB exposure.”
Instead of testing the caulk directly, the District’s environmental consultant had been taking air samples and wipe tests. These indirect tests have no legal significance but do show detectable amounts of PCBs in the air and dust of many classrooms. However, the District has rejected an offer by Malibu parent and supermodel Cindy Crawford and her husband Rande Gerber to personally pay for direct source testing.
“In an apparent attempt to limit civil liability, the District has now backed itself into a perverse ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on contaminated classrooms,” stated PEER Senior Council Paula Dinerstein, noting that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has also opened an investigation into potential criminal charges of child endangerment and maintaining a public nuisance. “The schools’ older buildings clearly suffer from widespread PCB contamination requiring comprehensive testing and removal rather than the District’s current piecemeal whack-a-mole approach.”