Environment & Science

Malibu High School soil will be tested for contaminants

State toxics regulators plan to test soil around Malibu High School.
State toxics regulators plan to test soil around Malibu High School.

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Following months of calls for testing, advocates for teachers at Malibu High School announced today that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the state toxics regulatory agency had agreed to oversee soil sampling on the campus.

Multiple diagnoses of cancer among staff have intensified fears that chemical contaminants at the campus have made working and studying on the property a health hazard.

An official with the Department of Toxic Substances Control said that the planned testing would go beyond previous sampling efforts which had deemed the school to be safe.  

“Based upon the information that we’ve seen, currently, we haven’t identified that there is a significant risk out at the school property, but we will come back and give the school district a good assessment of what the current site conditions are based upon this next round of sampling,” said Thomas Cota, branch chief with the Southern California School Evaluation Program within the DTSC.

Earlier testing has been criticized by teacher and parent advocacy groups as having been done improperly.

A contractor called Environ International will conduct the new round of testing and will be overseen by  DTSC. Cota said his agency and the contractor will be developing the scope and methods for the testing during the next few months. It will test additional sites on the high school campus as well as at the neighboring elementary school. 

Toxic substances have been found at the school. Back in 2011, private consultants removed more than a thousand tons of soil reported to contain banned pesticides. Private tests also showed PCB levels in some classroom window caulk to be above acceptable levels.

Last year, three teachers reported developing thyroid cancer within a six-month stretch. Many teachers, fearing for their health, announced they wouldn’t go back into their classrooms. 

Advocates for teachers said that they are glad that the school district and the DTSC have committed to testing but that they also want the school district to pay for independent testing.

“It’s a big deal that they have committed to that. What exactly they mean by that and what they would consider comprehensive and a lot of details about what the testing is going to be done remain to be seen," said Paula Dinerstein, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "The community really wants a role in overseeing that and making sure it’s done right, especially given the history.”