Court Lays a Smackdown on the EPA for its Pesticide Inaction

Congrats to EarthJustice, NRDC and Pesticide Action Network:

(Now the EPA Needs a PCB Smackdown!)

When a court opinion starts off with a sentence like this, you know it is going to be a good read:

“Although filibustering may be a venerable tradition in the United States Senate, it is frowned upon in administrative agencies tasked with protecting human health.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a writ of mandamus,” a command to a court, agency or person to perform its public or statutory duty. The writ ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act on a 2007 petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used agricultural insecticide whose dangers have been studied for many years.

This EPA needs another “smackdown” for not enforcing the law on PCBs. But, even when EPA fails, Congress added a “Citizen’s Suit” clause to TSCA, so that Citizens can enforce the law. And this is why America Unites and PEER have gone to court; to ensure the law is followed and children and teachers are protected from a banned and highly toxic chemical the EPA claims to have no safe levels. (see EIS by EPA 1978

No matter what the EPA policy is on PCBs–which is not law–or how the district perceives EPA policy on PCBs to be, SMMUSD is required to comply with Federal law. Their lawyers know the law (or should) and the district is required to follow the law. It’s as simple as that. 

The EPA does not dispute the law to which PCBs are an illegal use and must be removed. It is solely SMMUSD that claims PCBs over 50 ppm can remain in place (a blatent violation of TSCA) and they keep pointing to the EPA in their press releases as justification to break the law. Even Judge Anderson, the Federal Judge in America Unites vs. Lyon case, recognized the districts intentional misleading of the parents, “the district has conflated the identified caulk containing PCBs with concentrations in excess of 50ppm that must be removed…whether intentionally misleading or merely unintentionally confusing…

Justice is on our side. Its just a matter of time. Sadly, that time can not be returned to our children or their teachers, nor can the damage of PCB exposure on their health be reversed.

Click Here to Read EarthJustice Press Release and Judges Decision



On Saturday, Aug. 22nd, 2015, even after hundreds of emails and phone calls requesting not to use rodenticides on the Malibu Schools, Superintendent Sandra Lyon made the final decision to spread more poisons at Malibu High, Juan Cabrillo and Webster.The two poisons chosen by SMMUSD are strychnine and Fumitoxin. Strychnine is an example of a very dangerous and unpopular poison making a comeback. Strychnine has NO antidote and acts very quickly. Thus, it is especially dangerous.

The EPA has placed Fumitoxin in its highest toxicity category, “Category 1 Danger.”  “Danger” means that the pesticide product is highly toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled. The compound converts to a deadly phosphine gas when it comes in contact with moisture. The application manual for Fumitoxins clearly states that there should be no entrance to treated areas for a minimum of 3 days but based on the climate in Malibu, the recommendation is 4-5 days. Yet, Lyon told AYSO families and parents that come Monday, Aug 24th, 48 hours after applying Fumitoxin, that it was safe. This is clearly incorrect and once again she is putting children in harms way. For their safety, please keep your kids off the fields at these schools.

From a Webster Parent stated based on the table in the Fumitoxin manual: “Tonight it will be 63 degrees, so a 96 hour/4 day minimum is required. A week from tomorrow is the second safest play.  Number 1 safest play is to attend a school that doesn’t use poisons.”

February 12, 2014, the Department of Pesticide Regulation cited SMMUSD for improper notification and use of pesticides. But Lyon’s actions this week show she did’t learn much despite her response in the Santa Monica Daily Press in 2014, “We will look for responsible ways to balance the range of requests from toxin-free to pest-free, including insects and rodents,” she said. “Our goal will be to find a healthy balance.” Clearly, she didn’t mean what she said.

Another parent stated in an email, “It sucks to have to say you can’t trust the SMMUSD, but transparency and common sense, especially when it comes to Malibu, have been non-existant.”

Poison Free Malibu Organization wrote to Lyon last week, “We have suggested viable and safe Integrated Pest Management (“IPM”) recommendations and experts to execute these recommendations. The strategy is based on Clean Up, Seal Up, and Trap Up. By using these techniques consistently, rodents can be controlled without poisons.”

A CA Licensed Pest control owner/operator added, “I will attest that I have toured the Campus and in my determination as an Agricultural Specialist, that IPM protocols were not implemented at MHS…I offered to begin implementing at no cost to the district, and my offer was ignored.”

In a letter from America Unites (AU) urged Lyon to not use rodenticides and instead use the one of the two free IPM options provided to the district by generous experts. AU wrote, “Carefully consider the health and safety of the school children and the environment in which they live when making your decisions and please respect the wishes of the city and its occupants to not use rodenticides, as your actions on the school property have implications throughout Malibu as well as the ESHAs abutting the school property.”
John Sibert, Mayor of Malibu wrote, “Sandy, Let me add my voice to a number of other Malibuites regarding the proposed use of fumigants and poisons on the  fields at MHS.  As you well know, the City Council unanimously supported a statement against the use of rodenticides and other poisons for pest control in the City…The City has also ended their use on our City-owned property…To have the School District ignore these efforts and plan an extensive fumigation and poison program on the MHS fields, particularly during the school year when they are in use, is extremely disturbing.  I hope you would hold off on this and consider other alternatives.”
After application of rodenticides, residents witnessed at MHS, a beautiful hawk sitting at the edge of a gophers hole monitoring the situation and stated, “Let us rely on this natural methods of gopher control.”
Another MHS parent wrote to Lyon, “I have to say, I was shocked that you moved forward with this unnecessary and toxic approach to dealing with a few gopher holes…. You had so many other options presented and available to you and so many community requests over this past week and even well prior to that asking you take a non-toxic and different approach.  Truthfully, it feels as though you run this school district like a dictatorship, not a democracy.  This is very disappointing and very wrong.”A Webster parent wrote, “There are quite a few of us that will not be sending our kids tomorrow to Webster, as the cafeteria is less than 100 feet from the fields. From the information that has been shared with us in regard to these chemicals and Webster emailing all the parents NOT to meet on the blacktop tomorrow morning, means there is concern. It’s irresponsible to have done what they done.”
Another MHS/JC parent stated, “The School Board must put a stop to poisoning and endangering students and wildlife on and adjacent to the campus until all IPM strategies are completely exhausted.”

A community member wrote, “I’m not sure why a jump backwards and going back to a poisoning routine is being implemented, but it’s completely an unethical stroke on the community.”

A MHS parents wrote to Lyon, “After the ongoing PCB fiasco and your very incomplete, piecemeal and expensive approach to it,  and now this, I have to wonder where is the oversight over your decisions and actions?  Who are you accountable to if not your constituents?  Why do you never take the approach of taking the utmost and highest precaution in protecting children, teachers and staff and now it seems you could care less about wildlife in our community as well.”
There were so many letters from Malibu City Council Members, prominent pesticide organizations, community members, parents, students, board members but Lyon ignored them all. Good question, MHS parent, Who does Lyon report to? 

Click Here for the Fumitoxin manual: (tablets were used not pellets)

EPA reveals details of PCB test results at Walmart Warehouse

13 Investigates first broke the story about toxic chemicals at a Walmart returns center in August.

Hundreds of workers were forced to evacuate the facility after initial tests showed the warehouse on North Franklin Road was contaminated with PCBs, chemicals that are linked to cancer.

The company that operates the center, Exel Logistics, offered all employees health testing, and we’re still waiting for those results.
The other big question: what was found in the plant? Federal investigators have released reports that include details and information about where the PCBs came from and exactly where investigators found them inside the warehouse.

The EPA released hundreds of pages of test results late Wednesday afternoon. The documents show where investigators found dangerous chemicals and the source of the contamination. The results come from testing that took place inside Walmart’s Indianapolis Returns Center in early September.

See all stories related to the investigation.

Wednesday afternoon, the EPA released a series of maps showing where PCBs were found in the highest concentrations, like in a battery charging area. It’s worth pointing out that tests throughout the warehouse show PCBs at levels that exceed government standards.

The highest concentrations were detected in caulk and paint on the floor and in some insulation material, and investigators concluded those are the primary sources of PCB contamination.

All the full-time workers at the Walmart warehouse have been on paid leave since they were evacuated nearly two months ago. 13 Investigates has learned the employees will all be moved to a different facility so operations can resume. In the meantime, those workers are waiting on personal test results to see what impact, if any, the contamination might have on their health.

See a map here (fig.1) and here (fig. 2) that shows where PCB levels were highest, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Parents continue to push for caulk testing at Malibu schools

Malibu parents pleaded with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District on Thursday to test the source of toxic substances found at Malibu High School.

Thursday’s board meeting was the latest in months of protests by parents – including supermodel Cindy Crawford and “Scandal” actor Josh Malina – asking the district to test window caulking in older buildings. Polychlorinated biphenyls were found in the caulking of four buildings, and elevated levels of PCBs were found in the air and dust of five others.

PCBs – found in structures built from the 1950s until they were banned by the federal government in 1979 – can cause cancer and damage the reproductive, endocrine and nervous systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An investigation began after teachers sent a letter to the school district, concerned that many of their co-workers had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Earlier this month, the Malibu City Council – which has no control over the schools – drafted a resolution asking the district to remove the caulk.

Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak kicked off about two hours of public comments at Thursday’s meeting, saying the district has “fallen short in its efforts” to address concerns – not just of parents, but also of staff. The City Council called on the school district to test the caulk in the classrooms, he said.

The district has said repeatedly that its classrooms are safe. The EPA has said that if PCB levels in the air or dust are below a certain threshold, it’s not necessary to test the caulk. If PCBs are found above that level, schools are instructed to continually clean the rooms where they are found until the measurements are at a passable mark.

Parents question whether air and dust samplings – which can vary because of environmental changes – are a fair-risk assessment.

But the source of contention for many is that previous testing determined that some of the caulk should be removed. Last year, the district randomly tested about 10 classrooms, and four showed PCBs above the legal limit, which meant the caulk had to be removed. The district then began consulting with the EPA, which told Santa Monica-Malibu Unified it did not need to test the caulk.

“It’s not the presence that’s the problem; it’s the exposure,” district spokeswoman Valerie Martinez said earlier this week. “As long as they’re coming up below those standards … then the buildings are safe, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.”

Crawford has offered to pay for testing the caulk. Law firm Baron and Budd, which currently represents a school in Massachusetts in a lawsuit against PCB-maker Monsanto, is offering free testing to all U.S. public schools. The district hasn’t accepted either of these offers.

PEER, a public employee advocacy group, recently added fuel to the fire when it revealed the group had taken caulk samples from the high school and had them tested. The group said results showed that one classroom could be the most PCB-contaminated room in the U.S.

The district said PEER gathered its samples surreptitiously and it hasn’t replicated the testing, while the EPA says it is reviewing PEER’s results.

Parent group Malibu Unites and PEER plan to file a lawsuit against the district in 30 days.

“I don’t know why you guys are worried about protecting your own liability. … Stop it. Protect our kids,” Jennifer deNicola of Malibu Unites told the school board. “That is your job.”

Board President Maria Leon-Vazquez requested that Environ – which is contracted to carry out environmental work at the high school – organize a community meeting in Malibu.

When asked earlier this week what the district had to lose by testing the caulk – if only for parents’ peace of mind – Santa Monica-Malibu Unified said it’s just following the EPA’s lead.

Contact the writer:

Original article published by Los Angeles Register.

Nonprofit discusses cleanup at MHS

Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
6:18 pm PDT May 9, 2014


Malibu Unites, a Malibu based nonprofit focusing on the heath of Malibu’s public schools, hosted a town hall meeting at Duke’s Malibu on Thursday, May 1, to discuss the ongoing situation regarding PCBs at Malibu High School.

The meeting introduced a board of experts who each shared their experiences dealing with PCBs, pesticides and toxicants, and were available to address questions from the crowd of a few dozen.

Experts included Penny Newman, executive director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Christina Georgio, staff attorney for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Nauchman Brautbar, an MD certified in internal medicine, nephrology and forensic medicine with a specialization in medical toxicology and Kurt Fehling, the Malibu Unites independent expert team leader.

“Having your own experts is critical,” Newman said. “It keeps people honest.”

Newman was the PTA president of Stringfellow Elementary School when she and other teachers, staff and parents at the school found out about the ongoing contamination of the school and surrounding neighborhood from the nearby Stringfellow acid pits. Through her work, she eventually got Stringfellow listed as one of California’s top priority superfund sites for cleanup.

“When I found out about the decisions that were being made about my children without my input, I was furious,” she said. “We not only have the right to know, we have the responsibility to know.”

Newman applauded Jennifer DeNicola, president and founder of Malibu Unites, and the rest of the organization’s team and supporters, in their efforts to involve themselves in the process of discovery and cleanup of PCBs and toxicants recently found on the Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School campuses. The group hopes to work with the EPA, Department of Toxic Substances Control, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the District’s environmental consulting firm for the cleanup project, Environ, to make the process transparent, according to DeNicola.

“At times you have to challenge [the DTSC], but when they’re doing the right thing you have to applaud them,” Newman said.

Georgio, who has spent most of her career working to correct the problem of pollutants in New York City public schools, said methods that would never be considered in New York, due to the sheer size of the District, can more easily be implemented in a community like Malibu.

“I’m the monitor with regard to what New York City is doing to remediate their schools,” Georgio said. “New York is still figuring it out — it does not know what it’s doing. It seems to me that starting over should be a considered option [in Malibu].”

Fehling spoke about his experiences conducting human health risk assessments for occupational and residential populations exposed to contaminants, citing Environ’s plan for remediation at the  MHS campus, “wholly inadequate.”

“We need to prompt them to look at a more holistic approach [to cleanup],” Fehling said.

For more information on Malibu Unites, or to donate to the nonprofit, visit

Press Release 4-1-14 Pesticide Violation

Press Release 4-1-14 Pesticide Violation

For Immediate Release April 1, 2014

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Cited for Pesticide Violations


Malibu, April 1, 2014—The State of California’s Environmental Protection Bureau Pesticide Regulation Division had issued a notice of violation to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) for non-compliance with required public notification of pesticides use.  These violations were brought to light by Malibu Unites, a non-profit coalition of parents, teachers, students and environmental experts.

Malibu Unites President Jennifer deNicola today sent a letter to the district requesting immediate compliance with the Healthy Schools Act and swift creation and implementation of an environmentally responsible pesticide management plan for all campuses in SMMUSD. Malibu Unites has also requested that the district adopt a Precautionary Principal Policy that would further protect students and apply caution in pesticide-related decision-making. Malibu Unites offered assistance from its Advisory Council experts to design such a plan.

In its notice of violation of March 12, 2014, Patrick Duggan of the California Pesticide Regulation Division wrote to Superintendent Sandra Lyon that the district was in violation of the Healthy Schools Act requirements covered in the Education Code as well as California Code of Regulation Title 3 Section 6618 and that:

“The operator of property (the district) shall assure that notice is given to all persons who are on the property to be treated, or who may enter during the application or the period of time that any restrictions on entry are in effect….”

Malibu Unites believes that the district has not complied with the Healthy Schools Act since it became a law in 2000.

When parents from Malibu Unites presented the violation at the SMMUSD board meeting on March 20th, none of the board members appeared to be aware of the violation, despite the Superintendent having received the violation notice one-week prior.

At issue is the district’s use of fumitoxin, strychnine, and diphacinone — all highly dangerous rodenticides — and other pesticides applied on all four Malibu school campuses every Saturday morning, a day when sports fields are in high use.  Photos provided to Malibu Unites (see below) show rodenticide pellets were not applied as directed on the label – i.e. underground in rodent burrows — but instead sprinkled all over the sports fields, thus putting anyone who entered the application site in potential harm’s way.

Pesticide Photo jpgFumitoxin carries a label that reads, “Keep out of reach of children…due to high acute inhalation toxicity of phosphine gas.” Mild inhalation exposure may take up to 24 hours to appear, causing an indefinite feeling of sickness, ringing in the ears, fatigue, and nausea. Moderate poisoning can cause weakness, vomiting, pain above stomach, chest pain, difficulty breathing. Severe poisoning may occur with a few hours to several days and result in pulmonary edema and may also lead to dizziness, cyanosis, unconsciousness and death.    Strychnine is a convulsive poison which can be fatal is swallowed or inhaled.  Diphacinone is an anti-coagulant which is highly toxic and causes internal hemorrhaging.  EPA is in the process of taking products for home use containing diphacinone off the market unless they are in tamper-proof bait stations.  All of these rodenticides also pose serious risks to pets and wildlife.

Despite the City of Malibu’s joint-use agreement with the district, SMMUSD did not inform the City about the use of these rodenticides nor that they were applied hours before children played sports on the fields.  Each Saturday from September to January, AYSO (soccer) uses the Malibu High School (MHS) sports fields. After learning about the district’s violation and use of rodenticides, the City of Malibu immediately contacted the district to cease the use of these pesticides. The Boys and Girls Club on the MHS campus also reported not having been notified of rodenticide applications. The City of Santa Monica also has a joint-use agreement and was contacted about the violation for use of pesticides.

Dana Friedman, a Malibu parent stated, “I cannot believe the district would so carelessly apply pesticides on the grounds at our schools. The district consistently fails to inform parents about important issues that affect the health of our children. They have shown us they can not be trusted with our children’s safety.”

MHS is currently dealing with another contamination issue of pesticide and PCB-laced soil on campus.  When it was first discovered in 2009, the district did not notify parents or teachers about these toxins identified by a contractor “at concentrations that presented an unacceptable health risk.” In 2011, an estimated 1158 tons of contaminated soil were removed during summer school sessions. No warning was issued to parents, teachers, or staff about toxic soil removal or possible exposure while attending summer school.

In Paramus, New Jersey, a similar case occurred when toxic pesticides similar to those found at MHS were detected in the soil of a middle school, and the Paramus School District failed to notify parents for four months. Once the City of Paramus found out, the district Superintendent was put on an extended leave of absence and resigned two months later. This case involved forty tons of soil. The Malibu remediation project involved 1158 tons of soil and failed to notify parent for 4 years.


Read the Malibu Unites letter to SMMUSD

See the pesticide violations

View the Fumitoxin label warnings

Malibu Unites is working to ensure that all Malibu schools are healthy, clean and toxic-free for students and those who educate them. You can read more about the issues at MHS at

Parents Want Independent Expert for Malibu High Testing

Parents criticize school district for dragging feet, lack of transparency.

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 7:30 am

By Knowles Adkisson

Roughly 50 Malibu High School parents and students representing a new advocacy organization scolded the Santa Monica-Malibu board of education (BOE) last week for taking too much time to test for toxins on the school’s campus, and demanded a role in the testing. la weekly crowd

The group, called Malibu Unites, said the district’s response since the presence of toxins were revealed in October had engendered distrust in the Malibu community, and requested that an independent expert be hired to verify testing results.

“We will never be able to remove the cloud of suspicion and concern that surrounds the campus unless people trust the results of the testing and the people trust the results of the remediation [cleanup],” said Malibu Unites President Jennifer DeNicola, a mother of two children. “The district cannot expect to achieve this trust unless the testing and the remediation are done timely, transparently and are verifiable.”

PCBs, lead and other toxins were discovered in the Malibu Middle School quad during an environmental review of the campus in 2010, but the district did not widely inform parents of remediation work performed in 2011 to remove the contaminated soil. Some teachers at the campus believe the toxins may be responsible for a series of health issues among the staff, including several cases of thyroid cancer.

The issue of communication between the BOE, which consists of Santa Monica residents, and the Malibu community, was brought up several times, including by Malibu City Councilman John Sibert. Boardmembers defended the district’s response to findings of elevated toxins on campus, arguing that continued emails to parents from Supt. Sandra Lyon and updates on the high school website had kept parents informed.

“We’re a little bit baffled about what suggestions you might have about communications, because I do think our superintendent has been doing her best about communication,” Boardmember Laurie Lieberman told Sibert. “[She has] been putting out weekly updates.”

Sibert suggested sharing the latest information about the testing process on the City of Malibu’s website, and several boardmembers said the city could easily take information from its own website.

They also said making sure testing met standards from state and local government agencies explained why contaminated soils had not yet been tested after health concerns raised by some MHS teachers were first made public in early October.

The district conducted air testing of classrooms over winter break in the main middle school building, through previous consultant the Phylmar Group, but has yet to test soil on the campus. It plans to have the soil tested by Environ, an environmental consultant hired after the district parted ways with Phylmar, and the state’s Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC) as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are also involved.

In a prepared statement before public comment, Lyon said the district continues to hear a “lot of criticism about reporting and communication that was done during initial investigations.”

However, she said that while she knows “how frustrated everyone is,” working with both Environ, state and federal authorities, “we can’t be [both] quick and thorough.”

DeNicola requested the district hire an independent environmental expert, chosen by Malibu Unites, who would work alongside Environ, the EPA and the DTSC. The contractor would be granted access to all environmental reports, raw data and input on testing protocol. DeNicola also requested the district expand its scope to include tests for air, soil, water and dust testing at the campuses of Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, Malibu High School and Malibu Middle School.

When Boardmember Oscar de la Torre asked DeNicola if she was requesting the district pay for the independent expert and the extra testing, DeNicola responded that “we have a couple of different choices, but what we’re asking is that you set aside funds.”

Later, de la Torre also asked Malibu City Councilmember Laura Rosenthal, who spoke on the issue, to comment on whether the City of Malibu would be willing to contribute funds toward the independent expert.

“I would need to look at that,” Rosenthal responded. “I know the parents, always open to looking at that and vetting that at the city council level.”


District, parents clash over transparency

Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
1:46 pm PDT March 24, 2014la weekly crowd

Communication, trust and transparency became central themes during the public comment portion of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education Meeting on Thursday, March 20, at Malibu City Hall.
The Malibu City Council Chambers filled near its capacity with Malibu residents concerned about the District’s handling of the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination affecting Malibu schools.
More than two hours were devoted to discussing the issue, although it was not on the Board’s agenda for that night.
The contention resulting from the issue has strained, if not tainted, relations between Malibu parents and the District. In the past, Malibu residents have criticized the District’s handling of the issue in terms of lacking in proper communication and transparency, as well as the scope of testing proposed to be performed.
“The keys to success are full-scale testing, full transparency and real-time communication,” said Matt DeNicola, a Malibu parent, during his public comment time. “This is 2014: I can find out when the bus isn’t going to be on time, but I can’t figure what’s going on with the high school toxin
DeNicola also criticized the District’s spending of $500,000 on the issue, saying, “we are in no better place than we were in October of 2013.”
To date, the District has entered into an agreement with environmental engineering firm Environ International Corporation to develop a testing and cleanup plan, under the oversight of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, but a plan or timeline has yet to be developed.
“I’m talking to Environ about getting that plan done and we are working with the EPA and the DTSC, so please know that if we could test right now and have a plan, we would do it,” SMMUSD superintendent Sandra Lyon said. “One of the things we’ve heard from the community is to make sure it’s thorough, and we are doing that.”
Jennifer DeNicola – who served as a parent representative on the Malibu Schools Environmental Task Force that originally investigated the PCB contamination issue at Malibu High School – criticized what she said was the District’s lack of urgency regarding the issue.
“It took them about two months to make a contract, [with Environ] and that’s two months of our kids and teachers going to school and nothing getting done,” she said. “I’m upset about the timeline and the fact that there’s no transparency or sense of urgency.”
Jennifer also used her public comment time to convey that Malibu Unites, a newly formed nonprofit advocacy group, wished to hire its own third-party remediation contractor that would work with the District, Environ and the DTSC to assist in the planning, testing and cleanup procedures.
It’s a move that Jennifer said could rebuild lost trust between parents and the District by ensuring the accuracy and diligence of testing and cleanup. “The only way [the District] can rebuild trust is to get an independent expert that represents the parents and teachers,” Jennifer said. “Having somebody that is advocating for our position, to ensure everything is done accurately and it’s done properly and comprehensively is vital to building trust and knowing our schools are safe.”
Board member Laurie Lieberman – defending Lyon and the District – said parents, a teacher and a scientist working for the City of Malibu were included in the interview panel that selected Environ, and said she felt claims of a lack of transparency were without merit.
“This was a very transparent process, and the group came to an agreement to hire this particular firm [Environ],” Lieberman said. “I want you all to be reassured that the process has been transparent and the concerns about that, I think, shouldn’t exist and are somewhat disingenuous.”
Lieberman also called for an end to “allegations of conspiracy and incompetence” directed at Lyon and the District, which she said are “unfounded and border on slanderous and libelous . . . they’re simply not getting us anywhere and aren’t helping us create a transparent, collaborative and communicative process.”
Lieberman, however, suggested the District review its communication processes, especially in terms of how it reacts to toxic contamination issues that may arise at its other schools. “While we have followed policy here and have followed what is required in the state . . . I think we should at least look at and examine those requirements and see if we should have some other kind of requirements for notification,” she said.

Malibu High School Parents Demand a Role in Toxins Testing & Cleanup

Malibu High School Parents Demand a Role in Toxins Testing and Cleanup


Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 4:39 PM
la weekly

  • Jennifer deNicola of Malibu Unites for Healthy Schools demands a role for parents in toxin testing.

Reiterating their distrust toward the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and pressing hard for new toxins testing at Malibu High School, 50 parents and students last night floated a plan to choose their own environmental testing expert – who would work alongside the district-appointed environmental firm, Environ.

Controversy has gripped the pricey coastal community since October, when it was reported that Malibu school officials had failed to fully alert parents or teachers to toxins unearthed at the high school during a 2010 environmental review. The toxins – including PCB’s, chlordane, arsenic, lead and others – prompted the school district to order major soil removal in 2011. Some critics claim the toxins caused numerous ailments and even cancer among teachers and students.

la weekly crowd
  • A Malibu crowd at the SMMUSD Board of Education on March 20 demands answers.

Environ is now working under the supervision of the federal Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to ascertain if the high school property is safe.

But outspoken critics of the district’s past behavior say that’s not good enough.

A new group of parents, teachers, medical and scientific advisors, calling itself Malibu Unites for Healthy Schools, has launched a website at and is seeking direct input into the toxins-testing process and any cleanup that may be needed.

Jennifer deNicola, president of Malibu Unites, told the board:

“The current process you have in place for the community and parents to verify the accuracy of the district’s work will create a stigma that will taint the campus for years to come. It is in everyone’s best interest to remove that stigma, which can only occur if the affected community can verify the testing, the results of the testing and remediation with their own expert.”

DeNicola says her group has interviewed environmental firms and is still seeking its own outside expert. They’re also demanding that the district communicate with them promptly, practice full transparency and that their group be given immediate access to raw information, the results of comprehensive testing and any identification made of the possible source of the toxins.

More than a dozen parents voiced their concern to the board and to Malibu City Councilmember John Sibert and Hamish Patterson, a candidate for city council.

Patterson told LA Weekly:

“I think it’s real simple … that testing must commence, that’s just phase one of everything getting alright. If the test showed that it’s a clean bill of health, then everything is alright. But if it’s not, it opens up a Pandora’s Box of remediation. How are you going to handle that, what are we going to do with our kids? And I think that’s why the school district’s been dragging its feet, and the city council’s been dragging its feet and the teachers union’s been dragging their feet. And when they say they’ve only known for six months, that’s not true at all. When is it alright? When people stop lying to a community.”

DeNicola says, “We are moving forward and we are doing it in a positive way.”

The Weekly reported earlier this week that while some Malibu residents fear that chemicals found in soil and window putty at the school may have caused thyroid cancer among three teachers, such fears may be unfounded.

The National Cancer Institute and many other cancer experts agree that the only known environmental cause of thyroid cancer is radiation. No radiation source has been found at Malibu High School, and most thyroid cancer is believed by scientists to be hereditary.

The newspaper also quoted thyroid cancer expert Marcia Brose, director of the Thyroid Cancer Therapeutics Program at the University of Pennsylvania, who says thyroid cancer is very common and, “it’s not surprising that you might discover some people who have had thyroid cancer, and they might know somebody [who has it] nearby. Unless there’s really clear radiation risks in the area, I don’t think that there’s any evidence for thinking that their thyroid cancer is caused by an environmental toxin, particularly.”

Brose also adds, however, that science is always discovering new connections, “So never say never.”

EPA senior policy analyst Hugh Kaufman in Washington, D.C., an outspoken critic of the way Malibu High School officials and school district leaders have conducted themselves, noted that Brose has in the past worked as a consultant to Bayer, a producer of chemicals.

Kaufman says there is room to challenge the conventional wisdom among scientists and cancer institutes. Kaufman notes that some peer-reviewed research into people who lived or worked around high levels of PCBs and other toxins shows that they may be susceptible to some forms of thyroid disease – such as goiter and overactive and under-active thyroids.

One peer-reviewed study by Lawrence M. Schell, Mia V. Gallo, Melinda Denham and others, for instance, notes that “It is well documented that acute exposure to high levels of persistent organic pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), p,p′-dichlorophenyldichloroethylene (p,p′-DDE), and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), can affect human health including thyroid function.”

Officials agree to test soil at Malibu schools

Sam Pearson, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Months of back-and-forth over suspected soil pollution at some of California’s choicest public schools may be coming to an end.

The state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has proposed conducting comprehensive soil testing at three adjacent Malibu schools where teachers, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and other groups have been sounding the alarm since last year that troublesome chemical problems were present at the sites that overlook the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon, who the community groups had harshly criticized for not doing more to inform them of the cleanup status, directed the district’s environmental consultant Environ to work with state officials to develop a cleanup plan. The contractor will present its recommendations at public Board of Education meetings, Lyon wrote to PEER late last month. Lyon formally notified the board of her decision at a meeting last week.

In an email sent to a community group, Department of Toxic Substances Control environmental scientist Maria Gillette said the agency had proposed conducting a soil sampling effort similar to “but more comprehensive” than an earlier sampling performed by a contractor at the school sites in 2011. The testing would likely include a search for PCBs, pesticides, metals and volatile organic compounds at Malibu middle and high schools, as well as adjacent Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, Gillette wrote.

The 2011 testing, performed by a contractor working on a renovation project, found organochlorine pesticides, lead, arsenic, cadmium, benzene and toluene in areas of the schools, prompting a growing community outcry for more information.

Some groups, including PEER, raised the possibility that the contamination was due to past World War II-era military installations in the area, which were once fairly common along the California coast (E&ENews PM, Feb. 25). But the Army Corps of Engineers has no records of former military sites in the immediate vicinity of the schools, Defense Department spokesman Dave Foster said.

While the Malibu case is getting attention because of its exclusive ZIP code, PCB contamination is a widespread problem throughout the country in schools built between 1950 and 1979, Gillette said. Indeed, PCBs have been some of the most common contaminants in U.S. school buildings.

U.S. EPA last year issued guidance to schools on PCB cleanup methods after more than 150 incidents of PCB contamination at schools in New York and New Jersey alone in the previous 15 months (E&ENews PM, Dec. 12, 2013).

A lawsuit brought in New York City by the group New York Communities for Change found between 800 and 1,400 city school buildings had PCB-containing ballasts, and the city has been implementing a cleanup plan estimated to cost $700 million to $1 billion (Greenwire, May 22, 2013).

The process also has helped a group of Malibu teachers organize with the assistance of PEER. The residents, calling themselves Malibu Unites, list dozens of supporters on their newly built website, including prominent celebrities who live in the area, like actor Martin Sheen, his wife, Janet, and their son actor Emilio Estevez. Model Cindy Crawford, who owns two beachfront homes in Malibu, also signed on as a supporter.

A group of teachers at the schools last year wrote to the district, calling for more investigation into the toxic contaminants thought to be at the site, suspecting that a series of health problems among staff members may be tied to harmful chemicals in their workplace (Greenwire, Nov. 26, 2013).

The group this week signaled it would shift its efforts to ensure the tests were performed properly.

“We need to do a thorough investigation of all three campuses in order to determine an accurate cumulative risk so that we can protect our children and teachers and ensure they are in a healthy, clean and safe environment,” Malibu Unites’ president, Jennifer deNicola, said in a statement.