Malibu High School Teachers Letter to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Regarding their Concern that Contaminants at Malibu High School are Causing Cancer.
A letter signed by 20 Malibu Middle and High school teachers Friday October 4, 2013 expressed concern that the recent cancer diagnoses of three teachers and health problems experienced by other teachers may be related to contaminants on the campus.
The letter, addressed to the school district’s risk manager Gary Bradbury, states that three teachers have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the last six months. Another three have reported thyroid problems, while seven teachers suffered persistent migraines. Each of the affected teachers spent prolonged periods of time in buildings E (the main middle school building), F (music and drama), I (visual arts) and the school theater.
“These teachers believe their health has been adversely effected as a result of working in our particular buildings at Malibu High School,” eighth-grade language arts teacher Katy Lapajne wrote in the letter.
The teachers requested the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District test for a range of contaminants such as mold, and to view a copy of a soil report from 2010 when soil containing elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from past termite treatments was removed from a portion of the middle school quad.
In a memorandum sent to Malibu High School staff and school district personnel later on Friday October 4, 2013, SMMUSD superintendent Sandra Lyon stated that the district had retained Arcadia-based environmental consulting firm Executive Environmental to test for mold in some buildings, conduct air-quality monitoring and review the 2010 soil remediation report. Teachers are also being interviewed individually to determine the extent of their health problems.
“Over the past few weeks we have heard from teachers at Malibu High School who are concerned that health issues experienced by some staff members could possibly be related to environmental contaminants,” Lyon wrote. “Please know that safety of our staff and students is a primary concern. We appreciate that staff members have conveyed these concerns to us so that we can take the appropriate action. I can assure you that once the investigation and analysis are completed we will address the recommendations and will work closely with you as we plan and implement any recommended next steps.”
The issue was first broached publicly at Thursday night’s board of education meeting in Malibu, when former Shark Fund president Seth Jacobson asked the board about rumors of a cancer cluster among teachers at MHS. District Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez responded then that the district had received word from teachers about concerns, and had retained the consultant to test for contaminants.
A draft environmental impact report (DEIR) conducted in 2010 ahead of expected improvements to the campus found elevated levels of lead, pesticides and PCBs on the campus above state-mandated levels.
“PCBs are the primary contributor to the risk and hazard,” the report stated.
The extent of the pesticide and PCB-contaminated soils in the middle school quad area was estimated to be 1,017 cubic yards, before it was removed in 2010.
Jacobson, who sits on the high school’s site council along with other parents, teachers and staff, said Sunday that he and other parents were upset the district did not immediately let parents know about the concerns raised by the teachers.
“We had to find out on our own. And we had to find out on our own that three teachers had been diagnosed with cancer,” Jacobson said. “It’s very deeply concerning as the parent of a middle school student.
“We should have known about it, the district should have told us about it. It’s serious business,” he continued. “Whether or not it turns out to be a problem, the fact that they’ve engaged a firm to do an environmental analysis of air quality around our building, that’s a significant issue for children.”
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is supposed to oversee all environmental remediation work, and review all new construction work, in California schools. The DTSC database shows no work at this school since 2000, meaning that the 2010-2012 remediation was probably not properly reported to or overseen by them. The DTSC Schools program is very good, with highly qualified scientists - it was put in place after the environmental fiascos of Belmont Learning Center and El Dorado Hills High School.