Reiterating their distrust toward the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and pressing hard for new toxins testing at Malibu High School, 50 parents and students last night floated a plan to choose their own environmental testing expert - who would work alongside the district-appointed environmental firm, Environ.
Controversy has gripped the pricey coastal community since October, when it was reported that Malibu school officials had failed to fully alert parents or teachers to toxins unearthed at the high school during a 2010 environmental review. The toxins - including PCB's, chlordane, arsenic, lead and others - prompted the school district to order major soil removal in 2011. Some critics claim the toxins caused numerous ailments and even cancer among teachers and students:
Environ is now working under the supervision of the federal Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to ascertain if the high school property is safe.
But outspoken critics of the district's past behavior say that's not good enough.
A new group of parents, teachers, medical and scientific advisors, calling itself Malibu Unites for Healthy Schools, has launched a website at www.malibuunites.com and is seeking direct input into the toxins-testing process and any cleanup that may be needed.
Jennifer deNicola, president of Malibu Unites, told the board:
"The current process you have in place for the community and parents to verify the accuracy of the district's work will create a stigma that will taint the campus for years to come. It is in everyone's best interest to remove that stigma, which can only occur if the affected community can verify the testing, the results of the testing and remediation with their own expert."
DeNicola says her group has interviewed environmental firms and is still seeking its own outside expert. They're also demanding that the district communicate with them promptly, practice full transparency and that their group be given immediate access to raw information, the results of comprehensive testing and any identification made of the possible source of the toxins.
More than a dozen parents voiced their concern to the board and to Malibu City Councilmember John Sibert and Hamish Patterson, a candidate for city council.
Patterson told LA Weekly:
"I think it's real simple ... that testing must commence, that's just phase one of everything getting alright. If the test showed that it's a clean bill of health, then everything is alright. But if it's not, it opens up a Pandora's Box of remediation. How are you going to handle that, what are we going to do with our kids? And I think that's why the school district's been dragging its feet, and the city council's been dragging its feet and the teachers union's been dragging their feet. And when they say they've only known for six months, that's not true at all. When is it alright? When people stop lying to a community."
DeNicola says, "We are moving forward and we are doing it in a positive way."
The Weekly reported earlier this week that while some Malibu residents fear that chemicals found in soil and window putty at the school may have caused thyroid cancer among three teachers, such fears may be unfounded.
The National Cancer Institute and many other cancer experts agree that the only known environmental cause of thyroid cancer is radiation. No radiation source has been found at Malibu High School, and most thyroid cancer is believed by scientists to be hereditary.
The newspaper also quoted thyroid cancer expert Marcia Brose, director of the Thyroid Cancer Therapeutics Program at the University of Pennsylvania, who says thyroid cancer is very common and, "it's not surprising that you might discover some people who have had thyroid cancer, and they might know somebody [who has it] nearby. Unless there's really clear radiation risks in the area, I don't think that there's any evidence for thinking that their thyroid cancer is caused by an environmental toxin, particularly."
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Brose also adds, however, that science is always discovering new connections, "So never say never."
EPA senior policy analyst Hugh Kaufman in Washington, D.C., an outspoken critic of the way Malibu High School officials and school district leaders have conducted themselves, noted that Brose has in the past worked as a consultant to Bayer, a producer of chemicals.
Kaufman says there is room to challenge the conventional wisdom among scientists and cancer institutes. Kaufman notes that some peer-reviewed research into people who lived or worked around high levels of PCBs and other toxins shows that they may be susceptible to some forms of thyroid disease - such as goiter and overactive and under-active thyroids.
One peer-reviewed study by Lawrence M. Schell, Mia V. Gallo, Melinda Denham and others, for instance, notes that "It is well documented that acute exposure to high levels of persistent organic pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), p,p?-dichlorophenyldichloroethylene (p,p?-DDE), and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), can affect human health including thyroid function."