Malibu Teachers to District: Test For More Toxins

Trenching and conduit work is completed for a new information technology room at the Malibu Middle and High School Campus. Soil containing elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was removed from the middle school quad area in 2010, but some teachers believe the recent diagnoses of three colleagues with thyroid cancer may be related to remaining contaminants. 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version published Monday morning.

In the midst of a public health scare, an organization claiming to represent a group of teachers from Malibu High, Middle and Juan Cabrillo Elementary schools on Monday turned up the heat on the district, demanding full environmental assessments be conducted at the three schools.

The school district has already conducted random air testing for PCBs, radon and carbon dioxide levels in some classrooms, but the teachers are pressing for more. Initial PCB tests revealed toxin levels high enough to trigger involvement from the federal government

PCB concerns arose last month when several Malibu High School teachers expressed fear that the diagnosis of three teachers with thyroid cancer could be related to contaminants on campus.

Represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) out of Washington, D.C., a group of teachers from the three schools released a statement on Monday urging the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to “perform systematic testing to definitively confirm or dispel concerns” of toxic substances possibly present in school building materials and soils.

District Supt. Sandra Lyon was not immediately available for comment. A representative for PEER said the group could not name any of the teachers it was representing because of confidentiality concerns. 

Consternation over the health situation at the three campuses has grown among teachers in the past few weeks because of what PEER deems as “uninformative” responses from SMMUSD. PEER said the group of teachers is also frustrated that hard data from initial air testing has not been released to the public.

The teachers’ demands are listed as:

-A site assessment covering the entire three-school campus to determine the extent and hopefully the source of toxic chemicals;

-Examination of lead, arsenic, benzene and all of the chemicals found, not just PCBs and pesticides; and

-To examine all sources of exposure there must also be soil testing…not just the less reliable air testing inside classrooms.

Paula Dinerstein, senior legal counsel for PEER, said the D.C. organization came on board a few weeks ago to help concerned Malibu teachers after the local teacher’s union reached out.

“The teacher’s union at some point said ‘This is outside of our jurisdiction,’ so some of the teachers approached PEER and wanted to create a group,” said Paula Dinerstein said in a telephone interview with The Malibu Times. “At this point we [represent] just under 30 of the 80 total teachers in this group.”

PEER is a private nonprofit funded by donations and grants, Dinerstein said. The organization represents government employees who harbor environmental concerns. Past cases have included helping publicize concerns from Dept. of the Interior employees in Washington who were working in a potentially hazardous building, Dinerstein told The Malibu Times.

To view PEER’s full statement, visit here. Check back with The Malibu Times as this story develops.