Groups To Sue SMMUSD Despite EPA Deeming Malibu Schools Safe
Posted Aug. 22, 2014, 9:06 am
Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a letter last week to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) stating it is currently meeting federal guidelines to ensure the public health of primary and secondary school students in Malibu.
Still, two groups announced Tuesday they filed a notice to sue the school district and federal agency and demanding the removal of an illegal chemical they believe could still exist in high amounts at each of three Malibu campuses.
Last week, a group of parents – including former supermodel Cindy Crawford – remain skeptical and reportedly stated they would hold their respective children from attending any of the schools previously impacted by harmful chemicals.
The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) stated on Aug. 19 the notice to sue was filed on behalf of teachers. Also joining the legal notice was Malibu Unites, a grassroots group dedicated to finding and eliminating PCBs from the City’s schools.
“Students and teachers are subjected to illegally high levels of dangerous chemical contaminants in Malibu public schools,” a statement issued by PEER said. “Filed the day that classes resume, the notice provides 60 days for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove toxic materials from Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School or face a federal lawsuit.”
PEER officials gave a brief timeline of how the toxic chemicals known as PCBs were found at three Malibu schools.
“During the 2011 summer school session, the district removed from the Middle School Quad 48 truckloads of soil which, unbeknownst to parents and teachers, was contaminated with PCBs and pesticides,” PEER officials stated. “In the following two years, four teachers, including one who has since left the school, were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. There are at least 10 known cases of thyroid disease among teachers and at least four students struggling with autoimmune health issues. In addition, alumni students have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.”
Five days before the filed notice to sue, the EPA sent a letter to SMMUSD officials on Aug. 14. One day later, the school district announced the Aug. 14 EPA letter stated it was not required to do additional testing of dust and soil at Malibu Middle and High School as well as Juan Cabrillo Elementary.
“The District is meeting EPA national guidelines to protect public health from PCBs in schools by addressing the human exposure pathways of greatest concern, namely air, dust, and soil,” the EPA letter to SMMUSD officials reportedly stated. “EPA does not recommend additional testing of caulk unless dust or air samples persistently fail to meet EPA’s health-based guidelines. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) does not require schools or building owners to test caulk for PCBs.”
“PCBs” is short for “polychlorinated biphenyls” and is a toxic chemical compound that scientists have reportedly found to be a cause of cancer or any combination of development issues to one’s body, physique, or neurological function. The chemical has been illegal since 1976, meaning just about any level of PCBs would not be permitted to exist in any setting.
A carcinogenic, PCBs were a commonly found substance in many buildings across the United States during the 1950s.
Earlier this year, teachers at the three Malibu schools claiming the exposure to toxic elements at each respective campus has resulted in multiple cases of thyroid cancer or diseases and complaints of hair loss, migraines, rashes, and other symptoms.
The EPA letter came a few days before the first day of classes at SMMUSD campuses.
Appearing on television, Crawford reportedly stated her and her husband were pulling their two teenaged children out of Malibu High School out of concern of unsafe levels of PCBs.
Prior to the first day of classes, Crawford spoke at a SMMUSD meeting and offered to personally pay for additional PCB testing at the three Malibu schools affected by the compound chemical. Her offer was rejected since the EPA did not require the additional testing.
Still, SMMUSD officials did state a plan is in effect “to remove caulk identified above regulatory thresholds and light fixtures previously found to contain PCBs, even though dust and air samples have not indicated a health risk,” according to a statement released by the district.
The caulk would be removed from four locations at Malibu High School by June 30, 2015, the statement continued.
“To make certain the buildings continue to be safe, additional data will be collected around the school’s winter break in the 2014/2015 school year, and at the end of the 2015 school year, prior to the next annual summer cleaning. These data, along with data from this summer, will aid in determining future monitoring recommendations,” the school district stated in its release.
All but two rooms at the affected campuses were opened just ahead of the first day of school, according to SMMUSD officials.