District Releases new PCB Test Results

The PCB saga continues into the 2015 school year, with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) recently releasing data from summertime PCB testing at two Malibu schools that they say shows they’re keeping students and teachers safe. The tests have not yet been verified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Last week, the SMMUSD published a report outlining air and wipe testing performed at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo Elementary schools during the 2015 summer break showing no samples above the EPA safety threshold for PCBs in dust and air at school sites. The tests were conducted by Ramboll Environ, an environmental consulting company contracted by the district to help deal with the PCB issue in Malibu.

The latest sampling wraps up the pilot study evaluating the effectiveness of the district’s Best Management Practice (BMP) cleaning methods.

Since high PCB levels at Malibu High School came to light in October of 2013, a heated debate has erupted as to the safest way to proceed with testing and cleanup. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were a common building material in the mid-20th century, but were later discovered to be hazardous substances and were broadly banned.

In essence, the BMP methods are meant to ensure school sites are safe for use even when PCBs are known to exist. According to the district, BMPs are recommended by the EPA, while caulk testing and removal is not.

When asked directly why the district has not put stock in source testing — the testing of caulk demanded by parent groups such as nonprofit America Unites for Kids — even as an extra precautionary method, school district spokesperson Gail Pinsker’s vague response held the party line oft repeated by the SMMUSD in statements and press releases over the past several months.

“We understand the ongoing concerns of a few parents and staff members and continue to educate our communities on the science behind our actions,” Pinsker wrote in an email message to The Malibu Times.

“Experts recommend to focus on exposure, which shows non-detect for PCBs,” Pinsker explained. 

The details of the report show, in Environ’s words, that the district is doing more than enough to keep students and staff safe.

“ … the district’s current weekly, monthly and annual BMP cleaning methods and schedule are more than sufficient to maintain PCBs at non-detect and/or at levels below the health-based benchmarks prescribed by [EPA] on indoor surfaces and on indoor air,” the Environ report stated.

This summer’s tests gathered air and wipe samples from all remaining “regularly-occupied” pre-1981 rooms at the two schools that had not previously been tested. 

One room, the MHS boys’ locker room, showed PCBs in measurable concentrations, though they fell below the EPA safety threshold. The EPA threshold is 1 microgram/100 cm2, and the sample found PCBs at .22 micrograms/100 cm2.

This was the first set of test results published by the school since late March 2015, when source tests showed PCB concentrations in some classrooms up to 11,000 times the EPA safety threshold. 

Since the March results were released, no new source testing has taken place, though PCB remediation occurred this summer in rooms where PCBs were discovered above EPA limits.

“We are meeting the letter of the law and continue to be in compliance with EPA guidelines,” Pinsker said.

“[The district] could easily test the caulking themselves and prove there are no PCBs over 50 ppm, but the district refuses to do this because they know that any further caulk testing will certainly reveal widespread violations,” a statement provided by America Unites in August reads.

America Unites spokespeople were not immediately available for comment on this story.

America Unites and PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) filed a lawsuit against the district following the March 2015 publication of PCB test results. That suit is on track to go before a judge on May 17, 2016.

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