MALIBU (CBSLA.com) — Students at Malibu Middle and High schools were back in class Monday following reports that at least a third of the school’s teachers say recent construction on the campus may be the source of a cluster of thyroid cancers, skin diseases and other serious illnesses.
KNX 1070’s Jon Baird reports teacher Katy Lapajne wrote a letter (PDF) to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District last week claiming three teachers have been diagnosed with stage one thyroid cancer within the last six months and that three others were recently treated for thyroid problems.
The letter, signed by Lapajne along with 19 other teachers, also cites examples that include one teacher who claimed to suffer from and receive medical treatment for skin rashes over the last four years, with her symptoms only allegedly clearing when she stopped working over summer break. Another teacher reportedly received medical treatment for what Lapajne claims was “unexplainable hair loss.”
District officials have pledged to investigate further as teachers allege their health was compromised when the district hired contractors to cart 1,017 cubic yards of dirt contaminated by carcinogenic PCBs, lead and pesticides, away from the campus.
In a memo sent late Friday (PDF) to all staff, Superintendent Sandra Lyon said soil tests done on the dirt in the middle school courtyard would be re-examined. Air and surface testing for mold was already underway in music classrooms and was expected to be continued in the other buildings.
“We appreciate that staff members have conveyed those concerns to us so that we can take the appropriate action,” Lyon said in a statement.
Malibu High principal Jerry Block said officials are investigating.
“Student and teacher safety is our number one concern,” Block said. “We want to be diligent and overly cautious just to make sure that there isn’t anything here.
“But we don’t want to panic and we don’t want to speculate about what might be the cause of it.”
Seth Jacobson, whose son had class in one of the rooms in question on Monday, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO he’s not keeping his kids home from school — at least not yet.
“I think the most important thing is parents know what’s going on; they’ll feel comfortable,” Jacobson said. “I feel comfortable sending my kid to school, I just want to know more information.”
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.
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