District Says it Has Gone ‘Far Beyond the EPA Requirements’ for PCB Sampling


This story has been updated. Please see editor’s note.

For nearly a month, since the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan began to make national headlines, the Malibu-based parent advocacy group America Unites for Kids (AU) has been drawing comparisons between the struggles with PCB contamination here in Malibu and the issues with lead contamination in Flint.

In early March, a congressional committee in the nation’s capital held hearings to question Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about what happened to put lead into the water in Flint and whether enough was done to protect citizens.

To AU, there seemed to be a clear parallel between the handling of water in Flint and the handling of PCB-contaminated materials in Malibu schools. Founder and president of AU, Jennifer deNicola, pressed the district about the comparison.

“If you take out the word ‘lead’ and put in ‘PCBs’ and you take out the word ‘Flint’ and you put in ‘Malibu,’ you can start to watch what’s going on with our government, what’s going on with our EPA, the governor, and the questions being asked right now are, ‘Does this make sense? What you’re telling me, does this make common sense?’” deNicola said during last Thursday’s Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education meeting.

“One day, you might find yourselves sitting at a very similar hearing in the not too distant future,” deNicola continued. “What will you answer your congressmen when they ask you, ‘What about common sense?’”

Throughout the last two years, since PCBs at Malibu High School (MHS) and Malibu Middle and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School (JCES) came to light, the district has leaned heavily on the EPA to back up their plan for testing and remediation. In response to ongoing concern and growing mistrust of the EPA, The Malibu Times reached out to the SMMUSD to see how confident they are in the federal regulators.

“We cannot speak for the activities of EPA Region 5 in Michigan. The district has worked closely with EPA Region 9 regarding Malibu High School and have found them to be very knowledgeable and attentive to the investigation at the site,” SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker wrote in an emailed statement. “Unlike the situation in Flint, Michigan, where news stories report that there may not have been adequate sampling to understand potential exposures to lead in homes, at MHS and JCES over 1,000 samples have been taken during the course of the investigation.”

When asked if the district’s experts have gone above and beyond EPA mandates in any areas, Pinsker wrote that they have gone “far beyond EPA requirements for sampling.”

“For example, SMMUSD has voluntarily committed to two more years of air and wipe sampling to confirm its PCB management practices continue to maintain a healthy school environment,” Pinsker wrote.

In the past, MHS teachers have complained that these types of tests were not done regularly or adequately, a point Pinsker did not address.

The district was asked: “During congressional hearings, the EPA’s Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman was recently accused of ‘willful blindness’ when dealing with data regarding the safety of Flint’s drinking water. Why is the district confident the same is not happening in Malibu? Has EPA Region 9 reached out at all to reassure the district?”

Pinsker replied that EPA Region 9, which is responsible for the Malibu area, has been “far from” willfully blind, keeping a constant correspondence with community members, the district and elected officials.

“EPA Region 9 has been strongly engaged in the PCB-related activities at MHS and JCES and will continue to be engaged,” Pinsker wrote.

Finally, the district responded to concerns about a loss of faith in the EPA as an effective oversight agency.

Pinsker replied that the district has gone “above and beyond requirements identified by EPA.”

“Furthermore, as previously mentioned, EPA has been actively engaged in this issue with the District since late 2013 and has taken a scientific approach to the toxicity of PCBs that is consistent with other national and international regulatory agencies,” Pinsker wrote. “Our experience is that EPA’s view of the risks presented by PCBs is entirely consistent with the accepted views of the scientific community.”

Pinsker did not address if or how the district will work to combat fears that the EPA is not to be trusted.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gina McCarthy was EPA Region 6 Administrator. She is the head of the EPA.