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Santa Monica High Schools Pass Toxins Test, Report Concludes

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By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout News

August 3, 2015 -- Plans to demolish a building and replace it with a new softball field and parking lot at Santa Monica High School and to renovate four buildings at Olympic High can move forward after materials from existing structures tested well below federal standards for toxic substances, a school district official said.

Results of lab tests on 250 samples of materials from Samohi's 63-year-old technology building showed no PCBs over the Toxic Substance Control Act threshold.

In fact, “approximately 95 percent of the samples were either not detected above the laboratory reporting limit or less than 1 ppm (parts per million) for PCBs,” said Gail Pinsker, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District spokesperson.

Before they were banned in the United States, PCBs -- polychlorinated biphenyl – were used in caulking and glazing materials, added to paints and floor finishes and used as sealants for heating systems and plumbing and as insulation for electrical equipment (“Santa Monica District Testing for Toxins at Two Schools,” April 2, 2015).

PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals and to have other harmful health effects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Trace amounts of PCBs were found in paint and glaze samples in two buildings at Olympic High, but the materials “will be properly removed and disposed of off-site” following strict state-mandated procedures, Pinsker said.

Samohi students were scheduled to start using the new $55 million science and technology building's 20 classrooms, 15 science labs and auto shop this coming semester. Demolition of the old technology to make room for the softball field and parking lot was scheduled to start this fall, Pinsker said in April.

Four buildings at Olympic were slated for renovation starting this fall in a $5.5 million modernization project that will feature a new music classroom, modernized library and computer lab, Pinsker said.

Work at both campuses is funded through Measure BB, a $268 million facilities improvement bond approved by Santa Monica and Malibu voters in 2006, District officials said.

In February 2014, the district hired ENVIRON International Corp., a consultant, to create a comprehensive plan for identifying and disposing of building materials containing PCBs, according to a draft of the plan.

Samohi, in particular, badly needs updating, Board of Education officials said in February when they approved a recommendation to spend nearly half of the $385 million from Measure ES, a separate  bond measure local voters approved in 2012, for projects at the school (“Education Board Tentatively Supports $180 Million for Santa Monica High Renovations,” February 24, 2015).

Opened at its current site on Pico Boulevard in 1906, the 33-acre campus is where James Dean walked up the stairs of the history building in “Rebel Without a Cause” and has been featured in several other films.

“Samohi is often under-appreciated and under-valued because of what it looks like, because of the state of disrepair,” former Samohi PTA President Debbie Mulvaney told Board members in February. “We need to make the outward expression of Samohi match the amazing learning that goes on inside.”

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