The Surprising Place Your Child Could Be Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Every Day

October 21st 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Parents, environmental activists, and even some celebrities recently won a big victory to protect students from dangerous toxins, but the victory reveals what could be a much greater problem in American schools.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled last month that the school district for the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu in California must remove Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) from its classrooms by 2019. The school district had initially fought against calls from local activists to remove the chemicals from its facilities.

Calls to remove the toxins came after teachers and students in Malibu developed thyroid problems, migraines, asthma, and rashes, which could be related to PCB exposure, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.


PCBs are toxic manufacturing chemicals that were used in materials like electrical equipment, paints, plasters, and copy paper from 1929 until they were banned in 1979. They have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and skin lesions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Judge Percy Anderson's decision ordered the school district to remove the toxins by 2019.

"We wish that the remediation had been ordered even sooner, but we’re very happy that we won the merits of the case," Paula Dinerstein, attorney for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Southern California public radio station KPCC.

However, this school district's students could be just a fraction of the children sitting in classrooms with cancer-causing toxins.


The testing of window caulking in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district revealed that the PCBs in the buildings were hundreds of thousands of times higher than the federal limit, according to KPCC. However the testing that revealed the high toxin levels isn't required by law, which raises concerns that high PCB levels in other schools might be going unnoticed.

Spot tests by the Santa Monica-Malibu school district three years ago initially found that window caulking contained PCBs, but officials said that air quality was not dangerous and declined to remove the caulking. Last year advocates concerned about PCBs secretly took their own samples and had them independently tested, according to The New York Times. Supermodel Cindy Crawford even pulled her two children out of the school to increase pressure on the district.

Now Crawford has gone national with her cause, according to The Washington Post.

“This isn’t my normal day job, but it just didn’t make sense to me, and it didn’t seem fair,” Crawford, told reporters, according to the Post. “My children are being homeschooled, but that is not an option for most people.”

America Unites for Kids and the Environmental Working Group want the Environmental Protection agency to require PCB testing for schools built between 1950 and 1979, the time period when the chemical was most commonly used in building materials, the Post reports.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), where schools have tested positive for high levels of the chemical, released a report two weeks ago on PCB contamination in classrooms across the country. The report recommended that the EPA require and keep records of PCB testing and said that Congress should immediately make funds available for testing in schools. Markey's office estimated that up to 30 percent of U.S. schools could harbor PCBs, but also said that many cases remain undetected.

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