Sick Schools Afflict Wealthy and Poor Alike

Malibu, California, is a famed enclave for both the rich and eccentric, with some of the highest real estate prices on the planet. But a public school campus one block from the Pacific Ocean is experiencing problems more in common with gritty inner city schools in New Jersey: toxic contamination and an inability to get straight answers from authorities.

As part of a construction project on the Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School back in 2011, contractors discovered soils contaminated with PCBs and organochlorine pesticides (chlordane and DDT) presenting “an unacceptable health risk,” according to the contractor’s assessment. This testing also detected several other toxic chemicals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, benzene and toluene) above state Human Health Screening Levels. 

Without notifying teachers, students or parents, more than 1,100 tons of contaminated soils were removed—but only within the project footprint and by workers wearing no protective gear. No further testing has been done.

In October 2013, a group of 20 Malibu/Cabrillo teachers wrote to the district about recent cases of thyroid cancer, rashes, migraines, hair loss and other health effects they were experiencing and believe arose from their work environment.  The school district reacted defensively by hiring two public relations firms, as well as a new law firm.

At the teachers’ request, PEER has stepped in to help them find out the substances to which they and their students may be exposed.  Our first step was to help organize a Concerned Teachers group and started pressing school district, state and federal officials to perform systematic testing and to remove chemicals of concern from campus soils and buildings.

If the wealthy, well-connected Malibu community cannot get straight answers on these basic health issues, what hope do communities like Newark, East St. Louis and El Monte have?  It is important that the teachers, parents and students in Malibu vindicate their environmental rights because they will provide a blueprint for others to do so.  Help us write this blueprint