SANTA MONICA—Judge Percy Anderson has ruled in favor of plaintiffs, America Unites for Kids and PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and agreed that SMMUSD was in violation of Toxic Substance Control Act by having PCBs over the legal limit of 50 ppm in two of its schools, Malibu High School & Juan Cabrillo Elementary School.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District conducted their own testing in 20 rooms, with most over 100,000 ppm (parts-per-million) and measurements up to 570,000 ppm which is over the legal limit.
Judge Percy Anderson said, “The Court concludes, based on common sense, that it is highly likely that the same products were used to construct each of the buildings on the Malibu Campus. As a result, for the buildings completed at the Malibu Campus prior to 1979, and at which certain locations have been tested and found to contain caulk with PCBs in excess of 50 ppm, it is more likely than not that caulk containing PCBs in excess of 50 ppm remain in ‘use’ at the Malibu Campus in areas that have not been tested or repaired.”
He added, “Although Defendants have removed and replaced the caulk from the specific areas and rooms identified in their testing as exceeding the 50 ppm threshold, and some other areas may have had doors and windows repaired or replaced after 1979, there is no evidence that all of the caulk in the buildings at the Malibu Campus constructed prior to 1979 has been tested or removed.”
Canyon News spoke to Jennifer deNicola, co-founder and president for America Unites For Kids via email. “The Judge ordered a more expansive removal to occur in all pre-1979 buildings, at both campuses,by 2019. This judgement also shifts the burden of proof to presuming all pre-1979 buildings have PCBs and must be completely removed by 2019. The Judge’s order binds them to a tighter schedule and will force the district to expand their new plan which will all have to be completed by 2019 or the buildings can not be used,” said deNicola.
According to the EPA website, PCBs are a carcinogen and scientific evidence shows it causes cancer, affects the immune system, lowers IQ, interferes with brain and body development, and cause neurological, endocrine and thyroid disruption.
According to Law Offices of Barry Fagan’s website, several students and staff at the campuses have been affected by the hazardous amounts of PCBs. The website lists that allegedly 6 teachers have thyroid cancer, 4 alumni have thyroid cancer, and 1 current student with thyroid disease, possible thyroid cancer.
According to deNicola, the district expended $13 million, including a reported $7 million on legal fees rather than removing the toxic PCBs from the start.
The district lost their final motion to dismiss the case after 3 failed attempts. According deNicola, they finally created a PCB remediation plan and submitted to the court during the trial stating that they would replace some windows and doors by 2020. She also stated that they submitted a plan to the EPA on July 3, 2014, to do nothing for 15 years with the right to extend. They had no plan to remove all the PCBs from the campuses.
Oscar de la Torre, Defendant and SMMUSD School Board Member, told the press at a news conference at the district offices, “It’s a victory today. A victory for the parents. A victory for the people who started advocating for getting PCBs out of the classrooms.” De la Torre continued, “Instead of spending money on lawyers and public relations firms, we [the school district] should have done the hard work of of identifying the source of the PCBs and getting them out of our schools.”
According to The Malibu Times, the SMMUSD initiated the “Windows, Paint, Floors and Doors” modernization program, which intends to replace all building materials that have not been replaced in the past 25 years. This modernization program was slated to complete by 2018, though according to court documents the school district gave a deadline of 2020 for the project.
Board of Education President Laurie Lieberman indicated that,”We respect the court’s determination in this case. With the planned modernization already in the works at Malibu High School and nearly complete at Cabrillo, which is the court’s endorsed remedy, we’re very pleased to now turn back to our primary purpose of providing quality education for our students.”
At Juan Cabrillo Elementary School renovations are nearly complete with the exception of the F building ‘s window system which should be completed during this semester, according to Malibu Surfside News.
De la Torre spoke regarding the judge’s decision on validating their timeline. He replied, “Yes but the school district had a different timeline. If the parents never intervened in the situation it would have been a much longer timeline. Parents advocated, got involved took legal action, and forced the school district to do what we should have done in the beginning, which was test comprehensively and get rid of the problem.”
“We respect the court’s determination in this case,” said Board of Education President Laurie Lieberman in the letter to parents. “With the planned modernization already in the works at Malibu High School and nearly complete at Cabrillo, which is the court’s endorsed remedy, we’re very pleased to now turn back to our primary purpose of providing quality education for our students,” she added.