This grassroots campaign has been organized by a committee of concerned citizens and parents within Irvine.
Our mission is to ensure full and complete testing of the entire Portola High School site (construction complete) for the toxic, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used by the military and accidentally discovered on the school site. The school is now open, with staff and approximately 400 ninth-graders attending, since August 24th.
Comprehensive testing by suitable protocol should be conducted by impartial, certified, third-party testing organizations to fully appraise the toxic contamination on the site. Should toxic materials be found, the site should be remediated to provide the community a biologically-safe educational facility.
The $300 million Portola High School construction is complete in the City of Irvine. Unfortunately, the site that was selected for the new school is located on a former military base (MCAS, El Toro) and federal Superfund cleanup site that has not been properly tested for toxic contamination. From the start, it was a “bad” site. Finally, on March 2, 2016, Secretary Matthew Rodriquez of the California EPA and Director Barbara A. Lee of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued orders to the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) to test for subsurface soil-gases containing the same, toxic petrochemicals (volatile organic compounds-VOCs) already found along much of the perimeter of the school site.
Even though, or maybe especially because it has taken two years of wrangling with the IUSD and DTSC by former Irvine Mayor and City Councilmember Larry Agran and TestForToxics.org Executive Director Harvey Liss, Ph.D., both public agencies have been resistant to implementing those orders, attempting to minimize the testing, the reasons for the testing, and to exclude the public at every turn, as those orders required.
As construction was beginning, large quantities of toxic contamination (including a known carcinogen, naphthalene) were discovered on the school site. In fact, 78 truckloads of naphthalene-contaminated soil had to be hauled away before construction of a storm drain could continue. As a result, the City’s environmental consultant, David Richter, wrote a memo saying that he expected that the [unexpected] discovery should cause the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to “reconsider its prior approval … and will only re-certify the site for school construction after it is satisfied that there is no significant risk to students or school workers.” To read Mr. Richter’s memo, click here.
Unfortunately, the memo was never addressed and even after Dr. Harvey Liss began investigating and reporting on this matter in the Irvine Community News & Views, the DTSC refused to consider requiring testing, saying they stood by their previous decision to certify the site as acceptable for school construction. In response to a communication with the office of the Director of the DTSC, in Sacramento, on the letterhead of our “Test For Toxics” committee, they indicated that their staff will analyze the materials presented and report back sometime in-December. The timeline for a long series of communications that ensued is listed on the Blag page of this website, culminating in the March 2nd orders mentioned, above. Resident concern and organization is clearly an essential factor in assuring success in our mission. To read Larry Agran’s letter to the Governor, click here. To read our letter to DTSC that elicited the promising response, click here. To read the March 2nd letter from DTSC Director Barbara Lee, click here.
The purpose of our Test for Toxics organization and campaign was to educate the community and encourage Irvine residents to join us in demanding that the DTSC require and the IUSD perform comprehensive, independent toxics testing, immediately, and not permit the school to open for faculty and staff in June, 2016, and for students in August, 2016. It’s too late for that, since the school is now open. Ironically, the cost for testing was initially minimal (less than $100k), but now that school construction is complete, it will surely be much more expensive. Regardless, the cost is negligible compared to the IUSD potentially exposing generations of teachers, staff and students to risks of diseases, disabilities, and even deaths that could have been avoided had proper testing and cleanup been done before the property was purchased from FivePoint Communities, when they would have had to pay for testing and cleanup! And the site was appraised at its highest possible value, for residential use, $3.5 million/acre!
Where are we now? On July 28th, Larry Agran and Harvey Liss met with California EPA Deputy Secretaries Grant Cope and Catalina Hayes-Bautista, and DTSC Director Barbara Lee, in Sacramento, to make our case. Dr. Liss has been in communication with Secretary Cope, who has taken the lead, and finally received his response, dated October 24, 2016, which actually came from DTSC Director Barbara A. Lee. To see that highly unsatisfactory response and Dr. Liss’s commentary on it, click here.
Please click on the links below to access important resource materials: