In a stunning development, State officials at the highest levels have ordered the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) to conduct extensive testing for toxic contamination at the Portola High School site — where the $300 million high school, scheduled to open in August, 2016, is in the final stages of construction. For more than a year, IUSD has refused all requests to conduct comprehensive testing for toxic petrochemicals, claiming that limited, previous testing at the school site was adequate.
In a March 2, 2016 letter addressed to former Irvine Mayor and Councilmember Larry Agran, and Director Barbara A. Lee of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), writing on behalf of California EPA Secretary Matthew Rodriquez, [click here for annotated letter.] reported that DTSC had concluded that “further subsurface sampling should be conducted at the site” to determine “the potential presence of contaminants that could pose a threat to the health of individuals who attend classes or work at the school, or people who might otherwise use the school’s property.”
Director Lee’s update — in response to Agran’s August 31, 2015 letter to Governor Jerry Brown and subsequent communication with DTSC — made it clear that Portola High School was being built on a former national Superfund site that had not been properly tested for decades-old petrochemical contamination. This toxic contamination likely resulted from military aircraft operations and widespread petrochemical dumping that occurred at the former El Toro Marine Corps Airbase, beginning in 1943.
DTSC officials have been reviewing the Portola High School matter for months to analyze the evidence, previously reported in the Irvine Community News & Views (ICNV), that prior testing of the site was inadequate; it had not included soil and soil-gas testing of the interior of the site to search for toxic and cancer-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, as well as xylenes (BTEX), tetrachloroethene (PCE), and trichloroethene (TCE).
Beginning in March, 2015, Franklin J. Lunding, publisher and editor-in-chief of ICNV, commissioned a multi-part series and subsequent special articles on the Portola High School site contamination story. The articles were researched and written by Harvey H. Liss, Ph.D., a Registered Civil Engineer and former Irvine Planning Commissioner. According to Lunding, “Dr. Liss’s remarkable research and articles have kept thousands of Irvine residents informed and have given rise to a city-wide demand to test for toxics, including a Safe Schools Petition and a Call to Action — each with more than 2,000 signers — and both available on Dr. Liss’s own recently launched website and blog (this website).
Lunding, who noted that it has been more than a year since ICNV began covering the Portola High School toxic contamination story, said: “It shouldn’t have taken this long — and it shouldn’t have required a binding order from the State — to finally compel IUSD to conduct the proper, comprehensive tests that they were urged to conduct a long time ago, before school construction began, when testing would surely have cost substantially less than it will now.”
On what he called a “good news” note, publisher Lunding referred to Larry Agran’s comments in ICNV, just a month ago, when Agran said: “We still have time to do the right thing. We can still conduct comprehensive soil-gas testing that will allow us to evaluate the situation — before anyone gets hurt…before students and teachers and staff are needlessly exposed to toxic petrochemicals.”
Irvine Community News & Views, and Dr. Liss’s website, TestForToxics.org, are pledged to continue serving the Irvine community with coverage of this important story.
For more information, visit TestForToxics.org
Franklin J. Lunding
Harvey H. Liss