Malibu High moves students amid environmental contamination scare

When we think of environmental contamination and dangerous chemicals in schools, we generally don’t picture upscale areas like Malibu, California. However serious health concerns have recently arisen at Malibu High School that have prompted action by school district officials.

Four teachers at the school, which has 1,100 students spanning grades six through 12, have reportedly been diagnosed with cancer this year. Others have complained of migraine headaches and skin rashes. Now, while officials try to figure out what is going on, the school has moved students and teachers to other facilities.

The Santa Monica-Malibu United school district, which includes Malibu High, says it was told earlier this year of health issues suffered by members of the school’s staff. The district says it immediately brought in an industrial hygienist to conduct testing at the school. Los Angeles County public health experts have been called in to assist with the investigation.

Some Malibu High teachers have expressed concern about polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the soil around the school, as well as lead and other chemicals. There have also been complaints about mold in some of the school’s classrooms.

Experts play down fears of “cancer clusters,” saying that environmental issues are rarely a cause of cancer, and particularly multiple cases of cancer in people working in one area. The best known instances involved asbestos that was linked to mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer, in the1960s. According to the National Cancer Institute, thyroid cancer (which three of the Malibu High teachers are reportedly suffering) is relatively common, and affects nearly one in a hundred people during their lives. It has not been linked to PCBs, which are banned.

Nonetheless, Americans have become increasingly aware of and concerned about environmental contamination in recent decades, and employees have become more vocal about their fears. No one has filed a personal injury suit in the Malibu High case yet. However, school district officials are leaving nothing to chance by removing people from the building, and working to rule out environmental factors at the school as the cause of its employees’ health issues.

Source:  NBC News, “Malibu school officials battle health fears” Maggie Fox, Oct. 09, 2013