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.

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Original article published by Los Angeles Register.

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