The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is in Violation of the Healthy Schools Act

by Barry Fagan
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Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Cited for Pesticide Violations

The State of California’s Environmental Protection Bureau Pesticide Regulation Division had issued a notice of violation to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) for non-compliance with required public notification of pesticides use.

In its notice of violation of March 12, 2014, Patrick Duggan of the California Pesticide Regulation Division wrote to Superintendent Sandra Lyon that the district was in violation of the Healthy Schools Act requirements covered in the Education Code as well as California Code of Regulation Title 3 Section 6618 and that:

“The operator of property (the district) shall assure that notice is given to all persons who are on the property to be treated, or who may enter during the application or the period of time that any restrictions on entry are in effect....”

When parents presented the violation at the SMMUSD board meeting on March 20, 2014 none of the board members appeared to be aware of the violation, despite Superintendent Sandra Lyon having received the violation notice one-week prior.

At issue is the district’s use of fumitoxin, strychnine, and diphacinone -- all highly dangerous rodenticides -- and other pesticides applied on all four Malibu school campuses every Saturday morning, a day when sports fields are in high use. Photos provided to Malibu Unites (see below) show rodenticide pellets were not applied as directed on the label – i.e. underground in rodent burrows -- but instead sprinkled all over the sports fields, thus putting anyone who entered the application site in potential harm’s way.

Fumitoxin carries a label that reads, “Keep out of reach of children…due to high acute inhalation toxicity of phosphine gas.” Mild inhalation exposure may take up to 24 hours to appear, causing an indefinite feeling of sickness, ringing in the ears, fatigue, and nausea. Moderate poisoning can cause weakness, vomiting, pain above stomach, chest pain, difficulty breathing. Severe poisoning may occur with a few hours to several days and result in pulmonary edema and may also lead to dizziness, cyanosis, unconsciousness and death. Strychnine is a convulsive poison which can be fatal is swallowed or inhaled. Diphacinone is an anti-coagulant which is highly toxic and causes internal hemorrhaging. EPA is in the process of taking products for home use containing diphacinone off the market unless they are in tamper-proof bait stations. All of these rodenticides also pose serious risks to pets and wildlife.

Despite the City of Malibu’s joint-use agreement with the district, SMMUSD did not inform the City about the use of these rodenticides nor that they were applied hours before children played sports on the fields.

After learning about the district’s violation and use of rodenticides, the City of Malibu immediately contacted the district to cease the use of these pesticides. The City of Santa Monica also has a joint-use agreement and was contacted about the violation for use of pesticides.

Dana Friedman, a Malibu parent stated, “I cannot believe the district would so carelessly apply pesticides on the grounds at our schools. The district consistently fails to inform parents about important issues that affect the health of our children. They have shown us they can not be trusted with our children’s safety.”

MHS is currently dealing with another contamination issue of pesticide and PCB-laced soil on campus. When it was first discovered in 2009, the district did not notify parents or teachers about these toxins identified by a contractor “at concentrations that presented an unacceptable health risk.” In 2011, an estimated 1158 tons of contaminated soil were removed during summer school sessions. No warning was issued to parents, teachers, or staff about toxic soil removal or possible exposure while attending summer school.

In Paramus, New Jersey, a similar case occurred when toxic pesticides similar to those found at MHS were detected in the soil of a middle school, and the Paramus School District failed to notify parents for four months. Once the City of Paramus found out, the district Superintendent was put on an extended leave of absence and resigned two months later. This case involved forty tons of soil. The Malibu remediation project involved 1158 tons of soil and failed to notify parent for 4 years.

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Barry Fagan
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