Washington – Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) issued the following statement regarding Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey’s release of a report on the existence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools.
“The stunning report from Senator Edward Markey on PCBs in schools shows that the EPA and school districts must do far more to address this toxic substance. The EPA and school districts can no longer pretend that if they don’t test for PCBs, somehow this poisonous issue will just go away. Monsanto, which made PCBs, should be ashamed for putting so many children at risk.
“I am grateful that America Unites for Kids and its President Jennifer deNicola have fought tirelessly to ensure that students are not exposed to harmful PCBs. This report, as well as the recent court ruling, vindicates America Unites and demonstrates that preserving the status quo is not an acceptable option for our children.
“It is important that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District swiftly complete its plans to remove PCBs from schools as ordered by the District Court. I also urge EPA to prioritize the issue of PCBs in schools and to work closely with school districts to ensure that the local community is not exposed to dangerous chemicals. I look forward to working with Senator Markey, America Unites and other stakeholders on this critical issue.”
Senator Markey released a report which exposes the widespread issue of PCBs in schools, the failures of the EPA to protect children and teachers, and the need for Congress to take action to ensure America’s public schools are tested for PCBs. Jennifer deNicola has spent the last 3 years advocating for proper testing and removal of toxic PCBs from Malibu schools and just last month won a precedent setting case in Federal Court against the Santa Monica School Board. She and Cindy Crawford met with Senator Markey in June 2016 to address the national issue of PCB in schools harming America’s children.
WASHINGTON – Up to 14 million students in 26,000 U.S. schools could be exposed to unsafe levels of a notorious class of chemicals banned almost 40 years ago, according to a recent study by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The chemicals, known as PCBs, are leaching from caulking, sealants, and other aging building materials and fixtures. In a report released Wednesday, Oct. 5, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., analyzed the Harvard findings and calculated that up to 30 percent of American children in elementary, middle and high school may still be exposed to these dangerous industrial chemicals, despite a 1979 ban by the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to EPA data obtained by Markey’s office, which was also analyzed by EWG and America Unites for Kids, in the last decade the EPA has received 286 reports of potential PCB contamination of school buildings in 20 states. These incidents ranged from the removal of a single fluorescent light fixture to large-scale remediation undertaken by some of the nation’s largest school districts.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been linked to cancer, harm to the immune system, neurological damage, learning deficits, lowered birth weight and decreased thyroid function. Manufactured from the 1920s to the 1970s by Monsanto, PCBs were used as insulators for electrical equipment, oils for hydraulic systems, plasticizers in paints and caulks, components of fluorescent light fixtures and in consumer products such as carbonless copy paper. Not long after Monsanto introduced PCBs, the company discovered they were hazardous, but hid that information from the public and regulators.
Schoolchildren are most often exposed by old, PCB-laden caulk and crumbling fluorescent light fixtures. They may also come in contact with PCBs that leached into soil, or that were incorporated into paints and floor finishes. Any school building constructed between the 1950s and the late 1970s is likely to test positive for PCBs, but the EPA does not currently require such tests.
“PCBs are some of the most toxic and persistent chemicals ever produced,” said Ken Cook, president of EWG, which in a 2005 study found 147 different PCB contaminants in the umbilical cord blood of 10 American newborns. “It’s shocking to find that while they were banned decades ago, millions of kids and other Americans continue to be exposed today.”
Districts grappling with PCBs include the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in Southern California. In response to a lawsuit by the citizens’ group America Unites for Kids, last month a federal judge ordered all PCBs removed from two Malibu schools by 2019.
“The reports by Sen. Markey, EWG and America Unites for Kids confirm what I and many other parents around the country have worried and warned about for years,” said supermodel and spokesperson for the non-profit America Unites for Kids, Cindy Crawford, whose concerns prompted her to pull her two children from Malibu High School. “Millions of our students are likely spending significant hours each week inside classrooms that expose them to extremely toxic chemicals that could cause serious health problems for them,” Crawford said. “Unfortunately, as these findings show and by our own personal experience in Malibu, the government agencies have very little information or answers for parents and teachers. Schools and classrooms should be healthy places where our kids are safe and able to flourish, not environments that could put them at risk.”
Jennifer deNicola, president of America Unites for Kids, said Markey’s report should be a wake-up call to Congress, the EPA and parents nationwide.
“This is absolutely outrageous,” she said, “and no parent or educator should stand for it. Our government, which requires that children attend school, should also ensure they’re in schools and classrooms free from toxic chemicals like PCBs.”
Dr. Robert Herrick, primary author of the Harvard study, stated:
This data demonstrates that PCBs in schools are a national problem. And while the scope of the problem remains poorly characterized, it is clear that where people look for PCBs in schools, they are very likely to find them. The effect of these PCBs on the health of people in these buildings has never been studied, but given the evidence that PCBs cause cancer, and reproductive and developmental problems, it is essential that this source of PCB exposure be eliminated from our schools.
Across the country, tens of thousands of public schools could be contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls – compounds more commonly known as PCBs, which were used widely in building materials such as window caulk. PCBs have been linked to everything from skin conditions to cancer. On this hour of Reveal, we take a closer look at this sleeper chemical that was banned in 1979 but still poses a serious health risk to kids today.
No one knows how many schools have this ticking time bomb lurking in their windows, but reporter David DesRoches of WNPR in Connecticut starts us off with the story of a man who used to put PCBs in schools and now is working to get them out. People call him the “repentant caulker.” He secretly tests caulk in school windows to see if it contains dangerous PCBs. Not everyone’s happy with him: If PCBs are found, they have to be removed – and that could cost big money.
PCBs have shown up in schools built before 1979, including in affluent Malibu, California. Southern California Public Radio’s Stephanie O’Neill takes us to the front lines of the outrage. Parents who were worried that the school district wasn’t doing enough to protect kids and staff have taken the case to court. A teacher who calls herself “Cancer Patient No. 1” tells O’Neill her story.
So how did PCBs first find their way into the environment in the U.S.? DesRoches visits the small town of Anniston, Alabama. In 1929, the Swann Chemical Co. started making PCBs in a small factory there. In 1935, Swann was bought out by another chemical company. You might know it: Monsanto.
Today, we recognize Monsanto Co. as a global agricultural giant. Besides being a producer of herbicides such as Roundup, it’s at the forefront of biotechnology. But half a century ago, PCBs were Monsanto’s golden ticket – the company was the country’s sole manufacturer of the compound.
After millions of dollars were spent cleaning up the soil in Anniston, tests by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that PCB levels in the outdoor air haven’t changed at all in a decade. It’s this lasting Monsanto legacy that led Anniston residents to sue the company – and they won. The case was settled with a $600 million payout, but residents saw barely any of this money. Most got less than $7,000 each.
So why isn’t the EPA doing more to protect people from PCB exposure? Former employees say it’s because the agency has a history of making decisions that benefit industry. Considering that emerging science is showing that PCBs are more dangerous than we thought, this is a cause for concern.
LOS ANGELES — A study conducted by Honor Collegium students at UCLA under the supervision of Alison Lipman, Ph.D. found a “higher than average persistence of PCB-related diseases in individuals working at” PCB contaminated public schools in Malibu. The study may be seen at
–The study found a significantly higher prevalence of thyroid and Hashimoto’s disease at the Malibu schools compared to rates in the United States.
–The study also found significantly higher rates of thyroid disease, Hashimoto’s disease, and fertility issues compared with a control population at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village.
“I am proud that these students conducted such a rigorous and well-researched study,” said Dr. Lipman. “I hope their work will be built upon in Malibu, and across the U.S. to protect teachers and students that are in PCB contaminated schools.”
The binomial test found a significantly higher prevalence of thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s disease at Malibu schools, compared to published background rates in the US. The study reported five cases of thyroid cancer at Malibu schools, compared to less than one case expected (p = 3.175 x 10-14), and eight cases of Hashimoto’s disease at Malibu schools, compared to less than one case expected (p = 1.34 x 10-12). No significantly enriched diseases were found at OCS.
The Fisher’s exact test comparing disease rates between Malibu schools and OCS found significant enrichment at the Malibu schools, in thyroid disease (16 incidences at Malibu compared to zero incidences at OCS) (p = 2.110 x 10-4), Hashimoto’s disease (eight incidences at Malibu compared to zero at OCS) (p = 0.0216), and fertility issues (seven incidences at Malibu compared to zero at OCS) (p = 0.0362); while thyroid cancer (five incidences at Malibu compared to zero at OCS) (p = 0.0983) showed marginal significance. No significance was found when comparing building location or length of exposure with disease occurrence.
The study tested whether the detected occurrence of PCBs at Malibu schools correlate with increased incidences of PCB-related diseases, and thus are putatively causing diseases in staff members working at the schools. It tested the hypothesis that there would be a higher than average persistence of PCB-related diseases in individuals working at these schools.
The study analyzed enrichments in the incidence of PCB-related diseases in staff members at the Malibu schools. In order to test our hypothesis, teachers at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, Malibu Middle School and Malibu High School were administered an online survey (n = 146). The survey collected information on the prevalence and severity of PCB-related diseases, along with work hours, and work-site specific information, such as buildings that the teachers work in. In order to draw a comparison, teachers at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, built after the PCB ban, were administered the same survey as a negative control (n= 195). The study used binomial tests to assess increased prevalence of PCB-related diseases at the Malibu schools and Oaks Christian from responses (nMalibu= 41; nOaks= 23). Then a Fisher’s exact test was used to identify enrichment in disease prevalence in Malibu schools compared to Oaks Christian disease rates.
Furthermore, calculated was the chance of having a PCB-related disease due to working in buildings with high levels of PCBs using odds ratio. Finally, a Fisher’s exact test was conducted to assess the relationship between exposure time and disease status.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are carcinogenic pollutants that have been banned nationally and have been found in state governed Malibu public schools Juan Cabrillo Elementary, Malibu Middle, and Malibu High School. Exposure to PCBs increases the risk of heart disease, thyroid disease, Hashimoto’s disease, and several forms of cancer.
The Malibu community became especially concerned about PCB exposure at its public schools after three teachers were diagnosed with thyroid cancer within months of each other in 2013. Since then, and outside of this study, approximately 50 illnesses have been reported by students, teachers and alumni as potentially being linked to PCBs.
Subsequent testing in 2015 revealed classroom building materials within the campuses of Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Middle School with levels of PCBs thousands of times greater than the 50 parts per million threshold set by federal law. One sample tested at 570,000 parts per million, believed to be the highest ever found in an American school.
Controversially, the school district chose to halt testing and not pursue a PCB removal strategy, leading to federal litigation for an injunction to remove PCBs in compliance with Federal law and continuing significant concern among parents, teachers, and students.
Research conducted by Dr. Robert F. Herrick at Harvard’s School of Public Health has found PCB contamination to be widespread in American schools, with up to 25,000 campuses affected and 20 million people exposed each school day.
Parents of students in Malibu are suing the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, saying that schools like Malibu High are too dangerous for their kids. The parents are protesting the presence of PCBs, a substance that was widely used in construction materials before 1980. PCBs are banned today, but two older Malibu schools have elevated levels of PCBs in their buildings’ window caulking. The school district and the Environmental Protection Agency have said that the schools are safe, but parents and some experts disagree. We look for clarity with an expert.
MALIBU, Calif. — The high school here is ranked among the best in the country, with students each year moving on to Ivy League colleges. The location, on a hill down the block from the beach where “Baywatch” was filmed, offers a multimillion-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean.
Yet parents here have been yanking their children out of Malibu High School, concerned about PCBs, the highly toxic chemical compounds, that have been found in caulking of the school’s windows.
A battle over how to handle the PCBs, which were first discovered three years ago, is now convulsing this famously wealthy beach community, with parents, television stars and a supermodel pitted against one of the most elite public school districts in the country.
But not all parents and teachers are convinced: They blame PCBs for an array of maladies, including migraines, thyroid cancer and common colds, and they have sued to compel the district to remove all contaminated caulking. A judge ruled last week that the lawsuit could move forward.
In the meantime, school board meetings have turned chaotic, with parents shouting down district officials and calling them liars.
“The school district is telling us our kids are safe, but that’s what they were telling parents in Flint, Mich.,” said Jennifer deNicola, a mother of an eighth grader and a 10th grader who has spearheaded the push to remove PCBs. “We know there’s a problem, and they refuse to acknowledge it.”
But school and health officials insist that simply because PCBs are in the building materials does not mean the students are at risk of exposure. The school district tests the air in classrooms — the primary medium through which children could be exposed — and cleans regularly to reduce dust from the caulking, school officials said.
“Just because something is present doesn’t mean it can cause harm,” said Doug Daugherty, a managing principal at Ramboll Environ, the environmental consulting firm the district has hired.
The district has already spent millions of dollars on lawyers, environmental consultants and a public-relations campaign.
But, this being Malibu, parents have waged their own media campaign, complete with environmental experts and celebrity advocates. Cindy Crawford, the supermodel, has gone on national television to explain why she pulled her two children from Malibu High, and offered to pay to test caulking for PCBs throughout the campus, which also includes an elementary school and a middle school. (Her offer was declined.)
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were widely used in building materials and electronics until they were banned in the late 1970s, and they remain in many older buildings. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that the substances could be present in upward of 20,000 schools nationwide. The compounds have been linked to cancer, immune problems and lower I.Q.s among children.
Federal law requires that any building materials found to contain PCBs be removed. But to the chagrin of parents here, there was no requirement to test the caulking in the first place.
The E.P.A. has endorsed the district’s approach to handling the PCBs in its buildings. And scientists who studied PCBs in New York City schools said this method — of testing air quality and cleaning assiduously — was very effective.
Laurie Lieberman, the president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified school board, said the administration had confidence in the safety of its facilities and has been doing its best to reassure parents.
“We have tremendous empathy for people who are fearful and scared,” Ms. Lieberman said. “We’ve really tried to explain why the schools are safe now.”
Malibu parents have a history of skepticism about official health advice, including routine childhood vaccinations: At some local elementary schools in 2014, fewer than 60 percent of kindergarten students had received the full lineup of recommended vaccines, far below the state average.
In this case, the distrust on both sides became plain last fall, when supporters of caulking removal secretly took their own samples from classrooms and had them independently tested. Ms. deNicola announced that the results showed extraordinarily high levels of PCBs. The school district asked the sheriff’s office to investigate her for trespassing and vandalism.
The battle now threatens to tear apart the school district: Concern over PCBs has fueled an existing effort here to break away from Santa Monica so that Malibu can be in control of its own schools.
Beth Lucas, a parent, pulled her son, Christian, out of Malibu High after their endocrinologist said it was especially dangerous for him to remain there. Christian, now 17, had a malignant brain tumor at age 6, and the radiation used to treat it left him with a diminished immune system and thus more vulnerable to the effects of PCBs, the doctor told the family.
“We moved to Malibu for the schools, so it has been a big slap in the face to have the school district treat the parents and teachers and children so poorly,” Ms. Lucas said. She is also considering removing her daughter, who is in middle school, at the end of the year, but worried about the cost of private school.
“Yes, we live in this nice house,” she said, sitting on a hilltop porch that overlooked a wide expanse of ocean. “I don’t want to have to sell my house and leave Malibu. The district has put us in a horrible position.”
Currently, only one of the seven school board members represents Malibu. He supports replacing the caulking, but has been voted down by board members who live in Santa Monica.
“I think the board members have convinced themselves that the science is right and the parents are overreacting,” said Craig Foster, Malibu’s representative on the school board, and the father of a seventh grader at the middle school here. “But what if in five years it turns out testing the air and dust wasn’t enough? How do you sleep?”
Some other school districts across the country have acted more aggressively, often at the E.P.A.’s behest, to remove the source of PCBs. Parents here point to Clark Elementary School in Hartford as an example of a school district that handled matters responsibly: In that case, an entire school building was closed — and may be abandoned — because of PCB contamination.
But testing at Clark Elementary indicated elevated levels of PCBs in the air, whereas testing at Malibu High has not, E.P.A. officials said.
Jim Jones, an assistant administrator at the E.P.A., said the agency worked with schools to “get below the risk threshold using the best management practices.”
“We’re always trying to find what’s a cheaper way,” Mr. Jones said, adding that the caulking at Malibu High would all be replaced within several years as part of planned renovations. For now, he said, cleaning and ventilation are “far less costly than removal.”
According to EPA’s most recent document on PCB policy, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is not following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidance or law regarding PCBs at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, contrary to its August 17th, 2015 press release, where SMMUSD claims it is in compliance with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and following EPA guidance by only testing the air and dust but refusing to test any more caulk.
However, an EPA document released on Aug 24, 2015 named “How to Test for PCBs and Characterize Suspect Materials” confirms that a full investigation of the materials is required once a PCB problem–PCBs over the legal limit–like the one found in Malibu is identified.
“If you have identified a PCB problem, you will need to characterize it and determine the extent of PCB contamination. It is important to note that even if PCBs are not present in the air, they still may be present in building materials.”
This exact statement has been the mantra of the Malibu community for almost two years. The EPA document clearly outlines this,
“A sampling plan should be developed to characterize the caulk and other potential building materials that might either contain PCBs or be contaminated through contact with PCB-containing caulk such as wood, masonry, or brick.”
SMMUSD has refused to perform these steps, despite the long-standing community outcry for comprehensive caulk testing and PCB removal. SMMUSD’s refusal to test has been previously referred to as a “don’t test, don’t know” PCB-policy to avoid complying with the law.
“This EPA document validates everything America Unites for Kids, on behalf of Malibu, has been asking SMMUSD to do for two years,” said Jennifer deNicola, president of the Malibu-based environmental advocacy organization America Unites for Kids.
“The district has shown it will spare no expense to avoid characterizing the extent of the PCB-contamination. While the district continues to false use the EPA for cover, everyone really needs to understand not testing is a choice made by Superintendent Lyon and she has spent a lot of public money defending that choice.”
A letter from EPA region 9 on April 17th, 2015 to America Unites for Kids says, “nothing limits the District’s ability to perform additional caulk sampling or removal.”
According to deNicola, the EPA document the district refers to in their August 17th press release is intended to provide guidance only for schools that have never tested for PCBs and do not know if there are PCBs, not for sites, like Malibu, where there is already verified PCB contamination in the caulking in violation of Federal law.
“We are way past wondering if Malibu has toxic PCBs,” deNicola said. “We know Malibu has a significant PCB problem. This document directs the district to determine how wide-spread the PCB contamination goes and remove all PCBs in violation of current law. We keep asking ourselves, why would a school district claiming to be strapped for cash, spend six times what it would cost solve the problem.”
PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—are a group of highly toxic chemical compounds that were used to make a wide range of construction materials and electrical components before being banned by Congress in 1976. The law states the PCBs are an unauthorized use and EPA regulations state,
“PCB Items with PCB concentrations of 50 ppm of greater present an unreasonable risk to injury to health”
PCBs have been found by EPA and international agencies to be highly toxic, persistent organic pollutants known to cause cancer and a host of other serious illnesses which include those reported at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo by teachers and alumni.
Beginning almost two years ago, testing has shown that 18 classrooms in eight buildings at Malibu High School and adjacent Juan Cabrillo Elementary School are plagued with high levels of PCBs. In some instances, the levels were 11,000 times higher than Federal TSCA law allows and the highest levels ever identified in a public school.
It has been reported that five teachers have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, 14 of 30 middle school teachers, almost 50%, have thyroid disease, and at least a dozen alumni between the ages of 20-28 have reported thyroid cancer, thyroid disease or melanoma. A formal health study has not been organized to be sent to Alumni, teachers or current students.
America Unites for Kids along with PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, have filed a Citizen’s suit under TSCA requesting that SMMUSD comply with Federal law by removing all PCBs above federal limits at the Malibu Schools. In June, the plaintiffs succeeded in defeating the defendant’s motion to dismiss. This case is scheduled for trial in Los Angeles Federal Court on May 17th, 2016 and discovery is now ongoing.
Congrats to EarthJustice, NRDC and Pesticide Action Network:
(Now the EPA Needs a PCB Smackdown!)
When a court opinion starts off with a sentence like this, you know it is going to be a good read:
“Although filibustering may be a venerable tradition in the United States Senate, it is frowned upon in administrative agencies tasked with protecting human health.”
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a “writ of mandamus,”a command to a court, agency or person to perform its public or statutory duty. The writ ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act on a 2007 petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used agricultural insecticide whose dangers have been studied for many years.
This EPA needs another “smackdown” for not enforcing the law on PCBs. But, even when EPA fails, Congress added a “Citizen’s Suit” clause to TSCA, so that Citizens can enforce the law. And this is why America Unites and PEER have gone to court; to ensure the law is followed and children and teachers are protected from a banned and highly toxic chemical the EPA claims to have no safe levels. (see EIS by EPA 1978)
No matter what the EPA policy is on PCBs–which is not law–or how the district perceives EPA policy on PCBs to be, SMMUSD is required to comply with Federal law. Their lawyers know the law (or should) and the district is required to follow the law. It’s as simple as that.
The EPA does not dispute the law to which PCBs are an illegal use and must be removed. It is solely SMMUSD that claims PCBs over 50 ppm can remain in place (a blatent violation of TSCA) and they keep pointing to the EPA in their press releases as justification to break the law. Even Judge Anderson, the Federal Judge in America Unites vs. Lyon case, recognized the districts intentional misleading of the parents, “the district has conflated the identified caulk containing PCBs with concentrations in excess of 50ppm that must be removed…whether intentionally misleading or merely unintentionally confusing…“
Justice is on our side. Its just a matter of time. Sadly, that time can not be returned to our children or their teachers, nor can the damage of PCB exposure on their health be reversed.
13 Investigates first broke the story about toxic chemicals at a Walmart returns center in August.
Hundreds of workers were forced to evacuate the facility after initial tests showed the warehouse on North Franklin Road was contaminated with PCBs, chemicals that are linked to cancer.
The company that operates the center, Exel Logistics, offered all employees health testing, and we’re still waiting for those results.
The other big question: what was found in the plant? Federal investigators have released reports that include details and information about where the PCBs came from and exactly where investigators found them inside the warehouse.
The EPA released hundreds of pages of test results late Wednesday afternoon. The documents show where investigators found dangerous chemicals and the source of the contamination. The results come from testing that took place inside Walmart’s Indianapolis Returns Center in early September.
See all stories related to the investigation.
Wednesday afternoon, the EPA released a series of maps showing where PCBs were found in the highest concentrations, like in a battery charging area. It’s worth pointing out that tests throughout the warehouse show PCBs at levels that exceed government standards.
The highest concentrations were detected in caulk and paint on the floor and in some insulation material, and investigators concluded those are the primary sources of PCB contamination.
All the full-time workers at the Walmart warehouse have been on paid leave since they were evacuated nearly two months ago. 13 Investigates has learned the employees will all be moved to a different facility so operations can resume. In the meantime, those workers are waiting on personal test results to see what impact, if any, the contamination might have on their health.
See a map here (fig.1) and here (fig. 2) that shows where PCB levels were highest, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Months of back-and-forth over suspected soil pollution at some of California’s choicest public schools may be coming to an end.
The state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has proposed conducting comprehensive soil testing at three adjacent Malibu schools where teachers, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and other groups have been sounding the alarm since last year that troublesome chemical problems were present at the sites that overlook the Pacific Ocean.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon, who the community groups had harshly criticized for not doing more to inform them of the cleanup status, directed the district’s environmental consultant Environ to work with state officials to develop a cleanup plan. The contractor will present its recommendations at public Board of Education meetings, Lyon wrote to PEER late last month. Lyon formally notified the board of her decision at a meeting last week.
In an email sent to a community group, Department of Toxic Substances Control environmental scientist Maria Gillette said the agency had proposed conducting a soil sampling effort similar to “but more comprehensive” than an earlier sampling performed by a contractor at the school sites in 2011. The testing would likely include a search for PCBs, pesticides, metals and volatile organic compounds at Malibu middle and high schools, as well as adjacent Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, Gillette wrote.
The 2011 testing, performed by a contractor working on a renovation project, found organochlorine pesticides, lead, arsenic, cadmium, benzene and toluene in areas of the schools, prompting a growing community outcry for more information.
Some groups, including PEER, raised the possibility that the contamination was due to past World War II-era military installations in the area, which were once fairly common along the California coast (E&ENews PM, Feb. 25). But the Army Corps of Engineers has no records of former military sites in the immediate vicinity of the schools, Defense Department spokesman Dave Foster said.
While the Malibu case is getting attention because of its exclusive ZIP code, PCB contamination is a widespread problem throughout the country in schools built between 1950 and 1979, Gillette said. Indeed, PCBs have been some of the most common contaminants in U.S. school buildings.
U.S. EPA last year issued guidance to schools on PCB cleanup methods after more than 150 incidents of PCB contamination at schools in New York and New Jersey alone in the previous 15 months (E&ENews PM, Dec. 12, 2013).
A lawsuit brought in New York City by the group New York Communities for Change found between 800 and 1,400 city school buildings had PCB-containing ballasts, and the city has been implementing a cleanup plan estimated to cost $700 million to $1 billion (Greenwire, May 22, 2013).
The process also has helped a group of Malibu teachers organize with the assistance of PEER. The residents, calling themselves Malibu Unites, list dozens of supporters on their newly built website, including prominent celebrities who live in the area, like actor Martin Sheen, his wife, Janet, and their son actor Emilio Estevez. Model Cindy Crawford, who owns two beachfront homes in Malibu, also signed on as a supporter.
A group of teachers at the schools last year wrote to the district, calling for more investigation into the toxic contaminants thought to be at the site, suspecting that a series of health problems among staff members may be tied to harmful chemicals in their workplace (Greenwire, Nov. 26, 2013).
The group this week signaled it would shift its efforts to ensure the tests were performed properly.
“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,” Malibu Unites’ president, Jennifer deNicola, said in a statement.
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Joel Shufro, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health
(I have) urged the EPA to acknowledge the emerging science on the health effects of PCB exposure, and apply the precautionary principle to protect school employees, teachers and children who work and learn in these buildings."
David O. Carpenter, Ph.D. at University of Albany
"There is no safe level of PCBs for kids to breath. PCBs must be removed from our nation's schools."
Legislative History of TSCA and Banning of PCBs
The EPA is not one of viperous and quick action. This amendment defines PCBs to be bad, hazardous and dangerous and it mandates a program for their gradual removal, beginning with those uses which are outside of enclosed containers.