Press Release January 14, 2015

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Contact: Leola Webb [PEER] (202) 265-7337; Jennifer deNicola [America Unites for Kids] (310) 436-6000

Malibu Schools Spending Millions to Avoid Toxic Cleanup

Payments to Lawyers and Consultants Exceed What a Full Cleanup Would Cost

Washington, DC — Malibu public schools officials have spent millions of dollars on lawyers and consultants to avoid following Federal law and fully testing and remediating contaminated facilities, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and America Unites for Kids (formerly Malibu Unites). The lavish spending includes $775,000 in legal fees paid or approved, although there has yet to be any litigation, and environmental consultants staying in a $9,000-per-month luxury condo.

Over the past thirteen months, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) has spent more than $3.7 million on such expenditures. Yet no polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) remediation has occurred and only four windows have been slated for removal of caulking containing PCBs by the end of next June. The district has refused to do school-wide caulk testing even though district and independent samples reveal that 17 classrooms in seven buildings throughout the tri-school campus, educating students ages 5-18, contain caulk with PCBs above levels allowed by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Most rooms still have not had the caulk tested and of those that have, several are up to 7,000 times the legal limit.

In November 2013, SMMUSD identified illegal levels of PCBs in caulk in four classrooms on the Malibu High campus. After that, the district refused to test any more caulk or other building materials for PCBs, in order to avoid further triggering federal law requiring removal. Instead, the district has proceeded only with “avoidance testing” such as air and dust tests, which cannot trigger Federal law.

SMMUSD’s expenditures and approvals to date include:

  • More than $2.7 million on environmental consultants, primarily to monitor rather than remove pollutants;
  • $775,000 on the environmental defense law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, without any litigation pending; and
  • Tens of thousands of dollars on lodging and travel expenses including a luxury beach “villa” summer rental for $9,000 per month, as well as thousands more on hotels, meals, and travel billed by the environmental engineering firm Environ, even though Environ was hired in part because it is locally based.

“All of this money could and should have been spent in the classroom to create a safer environment for teachers and students,” commented PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “These records suggest that more than the school buildings need a good cleaning.”

For more than a year now, teachers and students at Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have raised serious health complaints, including thyroid cancer, which they believe may be linked to contaminated facilities. PEER and America Unites for Kids have been calling for testing of the caulking, removing all materials contaminated with PCBs above legal limits, and moving students and teachers out of dangerous classrooms and into PCB-free portable units in the interim.

“The district’s spending is fiscally irresponsible and their testing is a sham,” said Jennifer deNicola, President of America Unites for Kids. “They recently hired cleaners to remove dust in classrooms hours before the dust and air were tested for PCBs. These fixed results were an attempt to give parents a false sense of security and to distract them from what really needs to occur at all schools in the district—testing of all the caulk and removal of all PCBs above legal limits. Full PCB remediation could have been completed by now for far less than the district has spent on consultants and lawyers.”


Look at district expenditures 

View $9,000/month condo bill

Examine one of many expensive hotel bills

See high levels of PCB contamination in classrooms district is avoiding

Learn about the health dangers of PCBs, especially for young children

Trace the unfolding toxic history at Malibu schools

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