PCBs Removed From Santa Monica Schools but Left in Malibu
Comprehensive Testing and Precautionary Removals Sought but Denied in Malibu
Los Angeles — The same toxic contamination is being treated in vastly different ways in public schools within the same school district, according to documents posted today by America Unites for Kids and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The groups are now in federal court seeking complete removal of toxic Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) from three public schools in Malibu even as the same school district is undertaking such a removal in two Santa Monica high schools.
For nearly two years, Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have been roiled by discovery of illegal contaminants, including extremely high concentrations in window and door caulk. 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 campuses.
Throughout this period, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) has refused demands for comprehensive source testing and removal of all PCBs on the Malibu campuses. Only after independent parties tested and found PCBs thousands of times over the legal limit within arms-reach of children did the District agree to a limited removal of caulk only from those specific doors and windows. The district still refuses to test the caulking on adjacent doors and windows where the same PCB contaminated caulk is found.
Meanwhile, SMMUSD is planning improvements to both Santa Monica High School and Olympic High School and has released the PCB inspection and sampling reports for both campuses. By contrast with Malibu, in Santa Monica SMMUSD is —
- Conducting comprehensive testing, including hundreds of building material samples in areas being renovated or demolished;
- At Olympic High School, where PCBs above legal limits were found, removing not just contaminated material, but all materials which are similar in appearance, just to be safe; and
- Exercising much greater caution for PCB-laden materials in abandoned areas than for children and teachers occupying classrooms with much higher levels of PCBs on a daily basis.
“There are no studies proving there is a safe level of exposure to PCBs, and children are the most vulnerable,” said Jennifer deNicola, President of America Unites for Kids. “Yet, Malibu kids are ordered to occupy PCB-laden classrooms for a third school year.”
PCBs are known human carcinogens that can also cause disruption of the immune, endocrine and neurological systems. Children are more sensitive to PCBs because their brains and bodies are still developing. Because PCBs are toxic, persistent and bioaccumulate in the human body, all use was banned by Congress in the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
“It is beyond ironic that safeguards for PCBs taken to landfills are more stringent than those for our classrooms,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who is part of the legal team suing SMMUSD for violating TSCA. “It is utterly baffling that classrooms set to be demolished are treated with far more care than those still occupied by teachers and students.”