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SMMUSD re-opens third MHS building

Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
4:27 pm PDT August 5, 2014

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District re-opened the administration building at Malibu High School on Tuesday, July 29, following months of investigation regarding the presence of polychlorinated biphenyl contaminants at the school.

The administration building is the third building on the campus to be re-opened, following the re-opening of the school’s library on July 28 and Building J – “The Old Gym” – on July 18.

“To date, the overall PCB test results clearly show that the classrooms and offices at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School are either showing non-detectable levels or levels below the EPA’s acceptable benchmarks,” said Doug Daugherty, managing principal at Environ, in a SMMUSD press release.

Environ is the environmental engineering firm contracted by SMMUSD to investigate, test and clean the contamination of PCBs discovered at MHS and JCES.

The District’s re-opening of the third MHS building comes nearly two weeks after an independent study ordered by an anonymous person or organization came to light. In that report, PCB concentrations were found to be as much as 7,400 times greater than what Environ and the District has found in their testing of dust and air samples.

The samples from independent test included 12 soil and caulk samples, two of which exceeded the EPA’s 50 ppm limit for acceptable PCB concentration at more than 300,000 ppm.

More than 100 pre-cleaning surface wipe samples collected by Environ indicate that 87 percent of the samples fall below the detection limit for PCBs, while an additional 7 percent of pre-cleaning samples have total PCB concentrations that fall below the EPA’s 50 ppm trigger.

The direct testing of caulk in the independent testing, as opposed to dust in Environ’s testing, could account for the discrepancy between what the independent testing found and what the District and Environ are finding.

While the independent test examined soil and caulk as the source of PCBs, the EPA and Environ have so far tested only dust and air samples, which represent “pathways” to the human body, the EPA has previously cited.

According to the EPA’s website, PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons, and “have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.”

Until their ban in 1979, PCBs were used for 50 years as plasticizers in paints, plastics – including caulk – and rubber products. Due to their non-flammable properties, chemical stability, high boiling points, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications.

The PCB contamination testing and cleaning issue at MHS and JCES has been ongoing since the formation of an environmental task force on Oct. 16, 2013.

The task force was charged with reviewing and addressing concerns raised by the presence of PCBs at Malibu High School.

In the 10 months following the genesis of the issue, the District has faced scrutiny for its handling of the situation.