Recently Released EPA Document shows SMMUSD is Defying PCB Policy and Federal Law

According to EPA’s most recent document on PCB policy, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is not following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidance or law regarding PCBs at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, contrary to its August 17th, 2015 press release, where SMMUSD claims it is in compliance with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and following EPA guidance by only testing the air and dust but refusing to test any more caulk.
However, an EPA document released on Aug 24, 2015 named “How to Test for PCBs and Characterize Suspect Materials”  confirms that a full investigation of the materials is required once a PCB problem–PCBs over the legal limit–like the one found in Malibu is identified.
“If you have identified a PCB problem, you will need to characterize it and determine the extent of PCB contamination. It is important to note that even if PCBs are not present in the air, they still may be present in building materials.”
This exact statement has been the mantra of the Malibu community for almost two years. The EPA document clearly outlines this,
“A sampling plan should be developed to characterize the caulk and other potential building materials that might either contain PCBs or be contaminated through contact with PCB-containing caulk such as wood, masonry, or brick.”
SMMUSD has refused to perform these steps, despite the long-standing community outcry for comprehensive caulk testing and PCB removal. SMMUSD’s refusal to test has been previously referred to as a “don’t test, don’t know” PCB-policy to avoid complying with the law.

“This EPA document validates everything America Unites for Kids, on behalf of Malibu, has been asking SMMUSD to do for two years,” said Jennifer deNicola, president of the Malibu-based environmental advocacy organization America Unites for Kids.

“The district has shown it will spare no expense to avoid characterizing the extent of the PCB-contamination. While the district continues to false use the EPA for cover, everyone really needs to understand not testing is a choice made by Superintendent Lyon and she has spent a lot of public money defending that choice.”

A letter from EPA region 9 on April 17th, 2015 to America Unites for Kids says, “nothing limits the District’s ability to perform additional caulk sampling or removal.”

According to deNicola, the EPA document the district refers to in their August 17th press release is intended to provide guidance only for schools that have never tested for PCBs and do not know if there are PCBs, not for sites, like Malibu, where there is already verified PCB contamination in the caulking in violation of Federal law.

“We are way past wondering if Malibu has toxic PCBs,” deNicola said. “We know Malibu has a significant PCB problem. This document directs the district to determine how wide-spread the PCB contamination goes and remove all PCBs in violation of current law. We keep asking ourselves, why would a school district claiming to be strapped for cash, spend six times what it would cost solve the problem.”

PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—are a group of highly toxic chemical compounds that were used to make a wide range of construction materials and electrical components before being banned by Congress in 1976. The law states the PCBs are an unauthorized use and EPA regulations state,

“PCB Items with PCB concentrations of 50 ppm of greater present an unreasonable risk to injury to health”
PCBs have been found by EPA and international agencies to be highly toxic, persistent organic pollutants known to cause cancer and a host of other serious illnesses which include those reported at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo by teachers and alumni.

Beginning almost two years ago, testing has shown that 18 classrooms in eight buildings at Malibu High School and adjacent Juan Cabrillo Elementary School are plagued with high levels of PCBs. In some instances, the levels were 11,000 times higher than Federal TSCA law allows and the highest levels ever identified in a public school.

It has been reported that five teachers have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, 14 of 30 middle school teachers, almost 50%, have thyroid disease, and at least a dozen alumni between the ages of 20-28 have reported thyroid cancer, thyroid disease or melanoma. A formal health study has not been organized to be sent to Alumni, teachers or current students.

America Unites for Kids along with PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, have filed a Citizen’s suit under TSCA requesting that SMMUSD comply with Federal law by removing all PCBs above federal limits at the Malibu Schools. In June, the plaintiffs succeeded in defeating the defendant’s motion to dismiss. This case is scheduled for trial in Los Angeles Federal Court on May 17th, 2016 and discovery is now ongoing.

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