Malibu Schools Spending Millions to Avoid Toxic Cleanup
Billings by Lawyers and Consultants Exceed What a Full Cleanup Would Cost
Washington, DC — Malibu public schools officials have spent millions of dollars on lawyers and consultants to avoid fully testing and remediating contaminated facilities, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and America Unites for Kids (formerly Malibu Unites). The lavish spending includes $775,000 in legal fees, although there has yet to be any litigation, and consultants staying in a $9,000-per-month luxury condo.
Over the past thirteen months, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) has spent more than $3.7 million yet no actual remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has occurred. Back in November 2013, SMMUSD identified illegal PCB levels in four classrooms’ caulk on the Malibu High campus and those four windows have been slated for removal by the end of next June.
Since then, the district refused to test any more caulk or other building materials in order to avoid further triggering federal law requiring removal even though independent samples reveal that 17 classrooms in seven buildings throughout the tri-school campus, educating students ages 5-18, contain caulk with PCBs above levels allowed by the Toxic Substances Control Act. Several of those contaminated classrooms contain PCBs thousands of times above that legal limit.
Instead, the district has done only indirect “avoidance testing” such as air and dust sampling, which cannot trigger federal removal requirements. SMMUSD’s expenditures and approvals to date include:
- More than $2.7 million on environmental consultants, primarily to monitor not remove pollutants;
- $775,000 in legal fees paid or approved to the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, despite the fact that there is no litigation pending; and
- Tens of thousands of dollars on lodging and travel expenses including a luxury beach “villa” summer rental for $9,000 per month, as well as thousands more on hotels, meals, and travel billed by the engineering firm Environ, even the firm was hired in part because it is locally based.
“All of this money could and should have been spent in the classroom to create a safer environment for teachers and students,” commented PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “These records suggest that more than the school buildings need a good cleaning.”
For more than a year now, teachers and students at Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have raised serious health complaints, including thyroid cancer, which they believe may be linked to contaminated facilities. PEER and America Unites for Kids have been calling for comprehensive caulk testing, removing all materials contaminated with PCBs above legal limits, and moving students and teachers out of dangerous classrooms and into PCB-free portable units in the interim.
“Full PCB remediation could have been completed by now for far less than the district has spent on consultants and lawyers,” said Jennifer deNicola, President of America Unites for Kids. “The district recently hired cleaners to remove dust in classrooms hours before the dust and air were tested for PCBs. These sham results were an attempt to give parents a false sense of security and to distract them from what really needs to occur at all schools in the district – testing of all the caulk and removal of all PCBs above legal limits..”