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Malibu High Teachers Claim School Is Making Them Sick, Causing Cancer

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Teachers at Malibu High School wonder if working there is hazardous to their health. (credit: CBS)

Teachers at Malibu High School wonder if working there is hazardous to their health. (credit: CBS)

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MALIBU (CBSLA.com) —  A large number of teachers — as many as one third of the staff — say that Malibu High School is making them sick and causing an outbreak of cancers.

The teachers say that recent construction and several classrooms they believe are moldy have unleashed a torrent of illnesses among the staff.

A concerned group has hired environmental consultants to try to find the source of skin diseases, thyroid cancers and other serious maladies.

The teachers charge that their health was compromised  after the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District hired contractors to cart 1,017 cubic yards of dirt contaminated by carcinogenic PCBs, lead and pesticides, away from the campus.

District Superintendent Sandra Lyon issued a memo to staff Friday saying the district 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 possible contaminants began late last month. The teachers are mostly concerned about older buildings on the campus used for music, drama and visual arts.

Lyon told City News Service Sunday that parents should have no hesitation about sending their kids to classrooms 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 in question on Monday, said he is not happy that parents were not informed that environmental testing began two weeks ago.

Teacher Katy Lapajne wrote a letter to the district saying  three teachers have been diagnosed with  stage one thyroid cancer within the last six months and three other teachers have recently been treated for other thyroid problems.

In the letter, she also said seven Malibu teachers have been treated for persistent migraines 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 teacher’s 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 and made available to CNS.

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

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 school’s total staff includes 60 teachers and 10 other educators.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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