LOS ANGELES (AP) — Parents and teachers at a California school district where celebrities including Cindy Crawford removed their children over fears about PCBs filed a lawsuit Monday demanding all caulk containing elevated levels of the contaminant be removed.
A copy of the lawsuit provided to The Associated Press contends the district is violating the Toxic Substances Control Act by neglecting to remove caulk and building materials at two schools in Malibu, one of Southern California’s most scenic and affluent beachside cities.
The suit is being filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and parent group America Unites for Kids.
“Across the country, we see school districts faced with similar conditions opt for immediate and complete removal but, by comparison, Malibu school officials seem stuck in the sand,” said Paula Dinerstein, an attorney for the nonprofit public employees group.
An environmental consultant hired by Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District found that after cleanings were conducted, all air and dust-wipe test results were below Environmental Protection Agency exposure thresholds.
The district has stated it is in full compliance with the Toxic Substances Control Act.
“Our primary concern is student and staff health and safety every day,” Santa Monica-Malibu Unified spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said. “We are continuing to take guidance and advice from the experts to determine what additional actions we will take.”
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used widely in caulking, plastics, and other industrial applications before being banned in 1979. They have been shown to damage the immune system and are strongly believed to be a carcinogen.
As contaminated caulk deteriorates over time from window and door frames it can flake, releasing PCBs into the air and in dust.
The issue of PCBs has surfaced in recent years at several districts around the country, particularly those with older school buildings.
New York City reached an agreement with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in 2013 to remove light fixtures containing PCBs from 645 schools within three years. At the time, city officials said nearly 800 of the district’s 1,400 school buildings could have PCB-containing light fixtures.
In Malibu, teachers sent a letter to the district in 2013 expressing concern and noting that several faculty members had experienced health problems.
Later, celebrities including Crawford and actor Josh Malina from the TV show “Scandal” got involved.
“I’m here today as a Malibu dad who wants to believe that when he sends his son to school, it’s a safe place,” Malina said at an event last year.
Initial testing found caulk samples with PCBs above federal limits. In a letter to the district in 2014, the EPA concluded the district had followed the agency’s cleaning recommendations. The district also pledged to remove the four caulking samples with elevated PCBs.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and America Unites for Kids contend the air and sample wipes are insufficient, as they do not address the underlying cause: the caulk.
Dinerstein said they estimate probably 80 rooms in the district have contaminated caulk, beyond what was first tested.
“All those rooms are suspect,” she said.
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