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Parents and school district in wealthy community at war over PCBs

Instances of potentially-dangerous contaminants in buildings, water and air seem to be more prevalent, sadly, in poorer areas where residents may not have the money, resources or political savvy to fight back. However, in the wealthy beach community of Malibu, California, parents say that their children continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, known more commonly as PCBs, after they were discovered three years ago.

Parents, including former supermodel Cindy Crawford, are working to disprove the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District's and the Environmental Protection Agency's claims that the toxic chemical compounds found in the caulking around the windows are now at safe levels. Crawford, who removed her two children from Malibu High, says that she offered to pay to test the PCB levels in caulking at the elementary, middle and high schools, but that the district didn't take her up on the offer. The school board rejected a proposal by the board member who represents Malibu to replace the caulking.

The school district is considered one of the best in the country. However, it has lost credibility, perhaps in part due to other high-profile contamination cases, with some parents. As one mother notes, "The school district is telling us our kids are safe, but that's what they were telling parents in Flint, Michigan."

Among the issues in dispute is what a safe level of PCBs is. Health and school officials say that the presence of PCBs doesn't necessarily constitute a danger. An environmental consultant hired by the district explains, "Just because something is present doesn't mean it can cause harm."

The district says that it regularly tests the air quality in the classrooms. It has already spent millions dealing with lawsuits, hiring environmental consultants and waging a public relations campaign. However, that's not enough for some parents, some of whom blame elevated PCB levels for their children's medical conditions including thyroid cancer and migraines. PCBs have also been linked to lower I.Q.s and immune problems.

These chemicals were banned in the late 1970s from use in buildings. However, they are still present in those built before then, including an estimated 20,000 schools around the country.

Often it takes a group of people banding together to speak out and take legal action to incentivize businesses and public entities to make premises safer. Colorado personal injury attorneys can provide advice and bring in experts to help in those efforts.

Source: New York Times, "Health Scare at Malibu School Sets Off Media War," Ian Lovett, April 04, 2016

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