Santa Monica-Malibu USD January 5, 2014
SMMUSD Environmental Health
Q and A
The following serves to answer questions being asked related to the District’s environmental health activities.
Q: Why did the District decide to hire an environmental engineering (EE) firm?
A: We want experienced professionals to: (a) assess our situation; (b) consider employee and community concerns and questions; (c) construct and conduct the proper/necessary testing; and (d) outline necessary remediation. The District must rely on proven professionals to oversee this technical work.
Q: What process will you use for determining which firm to hire?
A: A panel will interview the firms. This panel will include district employees and task force members. We are reaching out to environmental engineering professionals to see if they can assist us in finding another environmental expert to sit on the interview panel.
Q: How will we know what questions you asked of the firms?
A: They will be posted online for public review.
Q: What process will you use to share the testing plans and data gathered by the EE firm?
A: We understand the need for transparency and open communication, and we will stress this point of importance to the firm hired. In fact, their response to questions on transparency and public meetings will play a significant role in the hiring determination. Once hired, the firm will be required to provide a complete action plan and timeline, which will be posted online, at the school sites and offered in an email to staff and parents.
Q: What will you ask the EE firm to test for?
A: Our goal is to gather the necessary information and provide the proper analysis to assure our community that the classrooms and campuses are healthy learning and working environments. We will ask for the necessary testing to accomplish this. And, we will provide to the EE firm the questions asked by staff, parents and community members. Additionally, the EE firm’s work will be overseen by the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).
Q: Why did you clean the MHS campus over the December break? Why didn’t you wait until the EE firm was hired to oversee this work?
A: A growing number of people wanted the campus cleaned over the winter break using the EPA’s best management practices. Following a review of the preliminary (Fall) testing data, the EPA said it was safe to occupy the schools and they advised that best management cleaning practice be put in place. We did not want to clean before capturing pre- and post-cleaning data, as we did not want to lose potentially instructive data/information and we did not want to be accused of sweeping away necessary data. We consulted with the EPA and moved quickly and carefully to put a Winter Break testing and cleaning plan in place.
Q: Which rooms were tested last Fall and then in December, during the break? And what rationale is there for selecting these rooms?
Preliminary Testing/November — Initial air, wipe and bulk sampling for PCBs was conducted on November 2 and 3, 2013. Sample locations were chosen with the input of consultants and Task Force members. Samples were collected from the Library; Blue Building rooms 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9; Room 301; and Mako Building rooms 103, 104 and 105.
Pre-cleaning Air Testing — Eleven rooms that had not been tested in November took place on December 21 and 22, 2013. These rooms were: Blue Building rooms 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 14, 16; rooms 302 and 303; the faculty office next to the boys’ locker room and a storage closet adjacent to Room 1in the Blue Building.
Post-cleaning Verification of Five Rooms Tested in November — Air/wipe sampling of the five rooms where the preliminary tests in November showed levels that are slightly above EPA guidelines was conducted on January 2 and 3, 2014. These were in Blue Building rooms 1, 5, 8, 301 and the Library. An EPA sampling and analysis expert from the San Francisco Region IX Office was on-site to collect a number of independent samples to ensure quality control and to review chain of custody procedures.
Post-cleaning Air Testing — Testing of the thirteen remaining rooms is scheduled to take place on January 4 through 6, 2014. These rooms are Blue Building rooms 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, 16, 302, 303, the faculty office next to the boys’ locker room and a storage closet adjacent to Room 1 in the Blue Building.
Q: When will the test results be returned?
A: The pre-cleaning testing results came to the Superintendent’s office on Thursday, Jan. 2nd, and these have been passed on to the EPA, who agreed to review the data. We expect the post-cleaning results to be available on January 14th, and we will make that data available immediately; however, people must understand that this means we will issue the data before the EPA and District have been able to review and consult with each other to outline any recommended next steps. Simply put, we will make the raw data available, but will not be able to comment on its implications and recommendations until the experts have reviewed the data and offered us their analysis and recommendations. We will hope to have the EE firm engaged by this time, which will allow this team of experts to review the data and offer informed opinions on next steps.
Q: Why did you hire the Phylmar Group to conduct the testing when you know the community is skeptical of this group?
A: We hoped that having the EPA review, make any necessary modifications and accept the testing plan would help build confidence in the process. We wanted to honor the request to clean over Winter Break and knew that to accomplish this we would need to gather pre- and post-cleaning data, in order to: (a) gather any instructive data/information, and (b) assure the community that we were not sweeping away potentially valuable information. We made a decision to work with the team in place – familiar with the site and testing locations – and have the EPA review the plan. As was planned, this concludes our work with the Phylmar Group; work will now move through the environmental engineering firm.
Q: A letter dated December 20, 2013 and sent out December 19, 2013 said that the EPA had reviewed and approved the testing plan. This was false; please explain.
A: Indeed, this was a mistake, and we apologize. The letter was issued prematurely. The letter had been prepared and was being held in anticipation that we would want to communicate with the community about our winter break cleaning/testing activities. We were speaking with the EPA Region IX and they were to review and make suggestions where necessary to the plans. We apologize that the letter was issued prematurely. We must also clarify a mistake in the letter: the EPA does not “approve” plans, rather they “review and accept” plans. We are grateful to the EPA for working in earnest before the winter holidays to review, modify and accept our plans.
Q: Why did Phylmar want to test with windows open? Doesn’t this make you suspicious?
A: For the verification air/wipe sampling, we consulted with the EPA, and they wanted the windows closed in the five rooms where the EPA verification testing took place on January 2 and 3. These are the rooms where the preliminary sampling, conducted last Fall, showed levels that were slightly above EPA guidelines.
The pre- and post-BMP cleaning air testing included windows closed and opened, so we could capture a range of data. It’s not unusual for teachers to have classroom windows open especially when the rooms
are full of students, and we were advised that you would want to capture a range of data, including the conditions most similar to when a room is in use. Given that people have questions about soil and outdoor conditions, this certainly seems reasonable. For the eleven pre-cleaning rooms that were tested, six rooms were tested with windows open; five were tested with windows closed. For the thirteen post-cleaning rooms that were tested, five rooms were tested with windows open; eight were tested with windows closed. http://smmusd.org/PublicNotices/Malibu.html
Q: Why does it appear that authorities in the EPA, specifically Hugh Kaufman, do not agree on the District’s situation/data analysis?
A: We have been advised by EPA in Washington D.C. to work with Region IX, and so we are. Questions regarding disagreement and dissention within the EPA are best addressed to that organization.
Q: Why is the community hearing opinions on test data from Dr. Paul Rosenfeld, the expert hired by the Malibu Parents for Healthy Schools before we are hearing comments on the data from the District?
A: This is the challenge presented by honoring the community’s request to immediately release the raw data, which we are doing in order to be transparent. We did make clear that releasing the data when its available means that there will be a gap of time before we can provide confirmed comments from the experts at EPA Region IX.
Q: How did you decide which cleaning crew to work with to implement the plan over the break? And how did you decide which rooms to clean?
A: The District contacted National Response Corporation (NRC) of Long Beach, a cleaning firm that is acceptable to the EPA, and experienced, and we hired them for professional services. All rooms in the Blue Building were chosen for cleaning, as were the three music rooms (301, 302 and 303), the Library and the gym office. These rooms were selected because of prior testing or by specific request.
Q: How many bids did the District receive for the cleaning?
A: The District contacted a cleaning firm that is acceptable to the EPA and experienced, and we hired
them for professional services. This does not require the formal bid process.
Q: Did the Board authorize use of the cleaning firm?
A: During the Board Study Session that took place on December 12, 2013, the Board gave direction to the Superintendent that allowed the District to proceed with the cleaning services over Winter Break, and then subsequently ratify the contract.
Q: Why not open the Task Force meetings to the full public/all interested? And, why don’t they issue minutes?
A: This is a good question, and one that we intend to address in the New Year. The Task Force was created to bring the community’s concerns to the discussion AND to help inform the community of the District’s action. As to minutes, we tried to capture and convey the discussions in the Superintendent’s updates.
Point of technical clarification: Meetings involving the public, such as the Task Force meetings, are not “public meetings.” Public meetings in the government sense are a meeting of the elected body or a quorum of the body, and these require agendas, minutes and they are open to everyone, including the media. We raise this point because there have been criticisms from some, including one reporter, that the Task Force meeting violated the Brown Act (open meeting laws). In fact, the Task Force meetings were/are not the type of meeting that require public notice and they do not need to allow media to attend
Q: Are the Task Force members paid for their time? A: No.
Q: Now that the MHS classrooms have been cleaned will you require all teachers return to their original classrooms?
A: No. We have made it clear that individual teachers may begin to move back this week. However, we have not yet identified timelines for moving. We believe teachers should determine what is best (and least disruptive) to their students’ learning and what is best for the teacher as we begin this process.