by Harvey H. Liss – 

The November 8th City election resulted in little change regarding the Irvine City Council’s political composition.  Melissa Fox, a small-business attorney and a solid progressive, replaces Councilmember Beth Krom, who has retired after 16 years on the Council, including four years as Mayor.  Termed-out State Assemblyman Donald Wagner was elected to succeed Mayor Steven Choi, and Christina Shea was re-elected.  Any sudden majority Council interest in ensuring that the Portola High School (PHS) site is properly tested for toxics seems unlikely.

The IUSD Board has a new member, Betty Carroll, an Irvine Public Schools Foundation board trustee.  Since she had the backing of the IUSD establishment and developer FivePoint Communities, it’s unlikely she will insist on altering the District’s stubborn and irresponsible refusal to adequately test for toxics at PHS.

In October, 2016, a lengthy letter from State officials (posted on, did not seriously address any objections to their previous determinations.

However, for the first time, the State claimed without evidence: “the school is considered safe for use.”  Previously, they were only willing to write that the school site “requires no further action,” which means only that all legally required protocols have been followed.

The reality is this:  After having accidentally discovered massive quantities of petrochemical contamination in on-site excavations in 2014, and after 16 of 17 soil-gas test wells on the site revealed “low” concentrations of cancer-causing and neurotoxicant volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in  2016, it appears that the $300 million Portola High School — now open to 400 ninth-grade students — suffers from site-wide petrochemical contamination.  In response, the State reaffirmed their “guess” that the contamination was caused by IRWD recycled irrigation water.

Moreover, the State’s claim of safety implies a belief that the “low” levels of contamination found are safe, when even in 1948, the American Petroleum Institute (API) produced a remarkable paper: API Toxicological Review.  It states: “it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.”  The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as well as the State of California, classify benzene as a human carcinogen.

No one knows if there are not higher concentrations of those carcinogenic and neurotoxicant VOCs on the school site.  Only site-wide testing and remediation performed by an independent environmental firm, or continuous air monitoring equipment installed inside the buildings, can ensure the safety of their occupants.  Otherwise, no one can predict when VOCs will be accumulating and entering the school buildings and how they will be affecting the health of teachers, students and staff.

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