A lawsuit filed Monday accuses Malibu school officials of violating the federal Toxic Substances Control Act by failing to decontaminate the city’s combined elementary, middle and high school campuses of allegedly illegal levels of cancer-causing chemicals embedded in caulk and other building materials.

The suit, lodged in Los Angeles federal court, seeks immediate removal of materials identified as containing toxic polychlorinated biphenyls — PCBs — in concentrations above those allowed by law. The plaintiffs are also seeking expedited PCB testing of all school facilities.

Gail Pinsker, a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District spokeswoman, said she had not yet seen the lawsuit, and, in any case, could not comment on pending litigation.

However, she provided a recent report authored by the district’s environmental consultant, Environ, dealing with PCBs at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary.

According to the report, indoor air and dust wipe sample test results are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s exposure thresholds, indicating that classrooms continue to be safe for students and staff. In most cases, no PCBs were detected in the samples, according to the report.

The suit was filed by America Unites for Kids, representing parents and other Malibu residents, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, on behalf of Concerned Malibu/Cabrillo Teachers, a group of 30 teachers and staff at the Malibu schools.

The complaint names all members of the district’s board of education, its superintendent, associate superintendent and chief financial officer.

“SMMUSD is committed to doing the right thing for all schools and all students,” Pinsker said. “The questions began in Malibu, but best practices regarding healthy schools must be applied throughout our 16-campus district. Teachers, staff and students deserve that.”

“Our primary concern is student and staff health and safety every day,” she said. “We are continuing to take guidance and advice from the experts to determine what additional actions we will take moving forward. Our board continues to study, review and discuss these issues with the health and safety of students and staff in mind.”

The suit alleges that since October 2013, when a group of 20 teachers jointly complained of health problems, including thyroid cancers they believed were linked to contaminated classrooms, the district has avoided a comprehensive source testing of the campuses.

Instead of immediately addressing PCBs allegedly embedded in building materials, the district has scheduled work to begin in late June, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that independent tests beginning last July have identified levels of PCBs in caulk up to 7,000 times the legal limit.

The district spurned an offer by model Cindy Crawford, a Malibu parent who has since removed her children from the public schools, to personally pay for comprehensive source testing, according to the suit.

“The district had ample notice and more than ample opportunity to avoid litigation but has not moved a step toward complying with the law to insure safety for students and teachers,” said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “Across the country, we see school districts faced with similar conditions opt for immediate and complete removal but, by comparison, Malibu school officials seem stuck in the sand.”

Teachers who expressed concern about working in classrooms where illegal levels of PCBs have been identified have been threatened with termination, the complaint alleges.

“For almost two school years, our district leadership has blatantly disregarded the law and put our kids and teachers at unnecessary risk,” said Jennifer deNicola, president of America Unites for Kids.

“No amount of cleaning with wet rags can remove PCBs and guarantee no exposure for our children and teachers, she said. “The law is the law, and the Toxic Substances Control Act requires removal of any PCBs above 50 parts-per- million — that is the remedy we demand.”

City News Service

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