Class is back in session at California schools in Malibu, but not all students will be there when the bell rings. Parents, including the high-profile supermodel Cindy Crawford, have been rallying over toxic contamination on school campuses for the past few weeks. While the school district and parents battle it out, more than 25 parents are sending their children to other schools.
Three Malibu schools—Malibu middle and high schools and Juan Cabrillo elementary—are currently under fire for the possible presence of cancer-causing PCBs. Although the school district claims the campuses are safe, parents aren’t convinced and are demanded further testing, particularly of the classrooms built before 1979.
PCBs (scientifically known as polychlorinated biphenyl) are chemicals previously used in caulk and insulating materials. Congress banned PCB production in 1979 due to its environmental toxicity and cancer-causing effects. PCBs can also have serious effects on the immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems. Exposure to PCBs can disrupt the function of hormones in bodies and can contribute to negative brain development in children, as well as the inability to perform well in school.
Just last year, teachers at Malibu schools claimed they were suffering health issues. Among them, three were diagnosed with thyroid cancer within the past six months and believed it was the result of PCBs in the classrooms. Upon testing, the district found illegal levels of PCBs in more than five classrooms at the high school and middle school and promised to clean up the schools and re-test to ensure the campuses were safe for students to return in the fall.
But a promise to clean up wasn’t enough to ease parents’ concerns. When PEER, a public employee advocacy group, conducted independent testing, it shared with Malibu parents the horrifying results, one of which revealed that classrooms surpassed the legal limit for PCB exposure by more than a thousand times. PEER’s testing also showed that the caulk in classrooms particularly needed to be fixed.
As a result of PEER’s testing and public results, parents demanded the school district do more, including further testing and remediation of toxic materials. Cindy Crawford and her husband Rande Gerber even offered to pay for testing and caulk remediation, but the school district didn’t accept her offer. Crawford has since kept her two teenagers at home from school.
In an official statement released to NBC, Malibu school officials claimed that its schools are safe for students and employees, based on federal EPA standards. The EPA agreed with the district and stated it does not recommend any additional caulk testing.
This answer isn’t good enough for parents concerned with the safety and health of their children.
Crawford publicized her concerns on the TODAY show, saying, “I look 10 years down the line. What if my kid, God forbid, had a problem? How could I live with myself, if I thought that it was a possibility, and I still sent them to school there? I don’t feel 100 percent safe.”
Crawford continued, explaining that the issue extends beyond the confines of Malibu and California. Currently, federal law does not require school administrators to test for chemicals. Crawford believes these laws should be changed to require every school across the country built between 1950 and 1979 to be tested for PCBs, as thousands of teachers and students could be at risk.