Teachers Say Malibu High May Be Source of Cancer

Teachers at the school say there have been instances of thyroid cancer, skin disease and other serious illnesses. Environmental consultants have been hired to look into recent construction and moldy classrooms.

By City News Service

One third of the teachers at Malibu High School have complained that recent construction and moldy classrooms may have unleashed a cluster of thyroid cancers, skin disease and other serious illness at the campus, and the school district has hired environmental consultants to examine their claims.

The complaints came after the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District hired contractors who dug up and carted away 1,017 cubic yards of dirt contaminated by carcinogenic PCBs, lead and pesticides, apparently the legacy of years of treatment for termites at a 50-year-old section of the school.   

District Superintendent Sandra Lyon issued a memo to the school’s staff Friday, and said the district has hired "a highly qualified environmental consulting firm to investigate these concerns and to recommend corrective action, should any be identified.” Tests for mold and other contaminants began Sept. 20.

Lyon told City News Service today that parents should have no qualms about sending their kids to those rooms on Monday.

"We know they are safe, just as much as you know that your house is safe,'' she said.  "As far as we know, those rooms are safe.''

Seth Jacobson, whose son will have class in one of the rooms Monday, said he is not happy that parents were not informed that environmental testing began two weeks ago.  

The teachers’ concerns centered on older buildings used for visual arts, music and drama at the 1,120-student combined middle school and high school, on a bluff above Zuma Beach at 30215 Morning View Drive.

In a letter to the district obtained by City News Service, teacher Katy Lapajne said “three teachers have been diagnosed and continue to be treated for stage one thyroid cancer within the last six months,” and three other teachers have recently been treated for other thyroid gland problems. Lapajne could not be reached for comment today. But in the letter, she said seven Malibu teachers have been treated for persistent migraine headaches, and other teachers have been treated for unexplainable hair loss, skin rashes, bladder cancer, and several respiratory illnesses.

At Thursday night’s school board meeting, district construction manager and CFO Jan Maez addressed a parent’s questions with an assurance that all of the teachers’ concerns would be examined by the consultants, Executive Environmental of Arcadia.

"We hope that we will receive the results of these reports here very, very soon, and then make them very public at that point. So, if we find any issues, they will be addressed immediately,” Maez said in comments recorded by The Malibu Times newspaper and made available to CNS.  

In a memo sent late Friday to the entire Malibu staff, the superintendent said soil tests done on the dirt in the middle school courtyard would be re- examined now. Air and surface testing for mold has begun in music classrooms and will be continued in the other buildings.

"We appreciate that staff members have conveyed these concerns to us so that we can take appropriate action,” Lyons wrote to the staff. "I can assure you that once the investigation and analysis are completed, we will address the recommendations and will work closely with you as we plan and implement the next steps.”

According to construction plans published in 2010, tainted soil tested at a "total hazard index” of 2, which was significantly above the target index of 1. After the 1,017 cubic yards of tainted dirt was to be hauled out, the target hazard index was predicted to drop to .1.

The top three feet of soil next to the older buildings was hauled away in a hazmat-style operation during a summer vacation period in 2011. It contained levels of lead, pesticides, PCBs and volatile organic compounds above California safety standards, according to an assessment conducted before construction began.

The complaint letter to the district’s risk management office was agreed to by 20 fellow teachers, Lapajne said. The school's total staff includes 60 teachers and 10 other educators.

The older buildings were constructed before the campus opened as Malibu Park Junior High in 1963. The soil cleaning was conducted as a preparation for a $30 million reconstruction project that would renovate the older buildings, which was approved by voters in 2006.

That project has been stalled for several years by a challenge to its coastal development permit from nearby residents angered by the installation of athletic field lighting at the school. 
Michael Tiffany October 10, 2013 at 01:38 AM
Once again, the district is supposed to report any and all cleanup and investigation work to DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control, 5796 Corporate Avenue, Cypress, California 90630, (714) 484-5459, tcota@dtsc.ca.gov). Federal EPA is shut down, the Republicans say you don't need it.
Scott Hosfeld October 10, 2013 at 08:21 AM
I know that Michael has posted this before and am very much hoping it has been brought to the attention of authorities, not just within the district, and perhaps a hungry investigative reporter who might have a good reason to follow up on this!
Bob October 10, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Mr. David Goldstein would be great at this one.
Michael Tiffany October 11, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Mike Dunn October 15, 2013 at 02:41 AM
If the campus is completely safe as claimed by the administrators who's offices are not there I have a suggestion. The administrators should move on to the school campus and then turn their offices into the New Malibu High.


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