Teachers at the Malibu High School contaminated school complex are challenging the effectiveness, scope and integrity of their district’s hurried effort to clean classrooms while ignoring the source or extent of an array of other toxic chemicals found on campus. The teachers are asking the district to discharge Mark Katchen, their current environmental consultant and open its arrangements to public review and input.
The Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have been in an uproar since a group of 20 teachers wrote to the district about recent cases of thyroid cancer, rashes, migraines, hair loss and other health effects they believe arose from their work environment. That was followed by the discovery that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District had removed tons of soil laced with organochlorine pesticides (chlordane and DDT), PCBs and other chemicals at levels well above safe levels back in 2011 without informing either parents or staff.
In the wake of these revelations and the adverse reactions they engendered, the district announced a hurried clean-up of several classroom areas. Despite a demand by concerned teachers represented by PEER that the district undertake a full site assessment which, at a minimum, meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency protocols, the district took limited and conflicting actions by –
Confining testing to PCBs found inside classroom caulk and fixtures, a wholly new concern that, while warranted because some samples exceeded federal standards, did not at all address the array of toxic chemicals found in soil across the campuses. No further soil testing has been done or is yet planned;
Conducting air testing in classrooms with the windows open, rendering the tests useless; and
Issuing a series of false and contradictory updates which left questions about what precisely was done, why and to what effect.
“None of what the district has done gets to the true nature and source of the contamination on campus,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that an environmental consultant engaged by the district appears to be impeding rather than aiding discovery of the actual condition. “PCB in caulk is a real issue but is being used to divert attention away from much broader contamination concerns.”
In today’s letter, the teachers protest the lack of transparency and seeming duplicity of Superintendent Sandra Lyon’s actions. They ask that copies of the contracts and communications with the district’s consultant and law firm be made public and that parents and teachers have a chance to review and comment upon bids for any future remediation work.
“The only way for the district to dispel what have become festering concerns is to start being completely transparent,” Dinerstein added. “While speed is important in addressing the contamination problems at the Malibu Schools, a hasty but ill-conceived, incomplete or inadequate plan will serve no one.”