California High School Moves Classes Over Cancer Fears

PHOTO: Malibu High School
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School officials in Malibu, Calif., have decided to move some classes after complaints that teachers' recent cancer diagnoses and other health problems may have been brought on by toxins on campus.

"While the alleged health concerns have absolutely no proven connection to our campus, in an abundance of caution and to allay all fears, we are temporarily relocating staff and students," Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District superintendent Sandra Lyon said today at a meeting with parents, students and staff.

She said that though the distrct had decided to move classes out of the area of the school where the concerns arose, nothing has yet been found to link the schol environment to the teachers' cancer.

"At this point, we don't have any evidence that there's any concern that we know about, but we want to make sure our staff feels safe," said Lyons.

Twenty-one teachers at Malibu High School voiced concerns that their "health has been adversely effected [sic] as a result of working in our particular buildings," according to a letter addressed to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District's risk management specialist Gary Bradbury.

Three teachers at the school, which includes grades six through 12, have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer within the last six months, the letter said, and another teacher has bladder cancer.

In addition, the staff members list migraines, skin rashes, unexplained hair loss and respiratory problems as some of the medical conditions plaguing the staff over the past five years, the letter from the teachers said.

The complaints came after the district hired a contractor to remove soil from the middle school quad in 2010. The soil contained carcinogenic PCBs, lead and other pesticides, according to ABC News' Los Angeles affiliate KABC-TV.

Each of the teachers who has complained of health issues works within the main school building, the music and drama building, the visual arts building or the school's theater, the letter said.

The teachers are demanding the district have each of their classrooms and the school's theater tested for mold and asbestos, among other toxins, the letter said. They also want the school to test the soil outside and underneath the buildings they work in.

Lyon told high school staff in an email Friday that the district hired environmental consultants to address teachers' health concerns.

"Some have also questioned the nature of the soil removed from the Middle School Quad. We take these concerns and questions seriously and, as a result, will provide a full environmental evaluation of the campus," the memo said. "Please know that safety of our staff and students is a primary concern."

Testing on school grounds began on Sept. 20, Lyon said.

During the course of their review, inspectors will speak with teachers about their ailments, review the 2010 soil remediation project report and see if there are any campus-wide factors that could be linked to health problems.

"Although we don't have any reason to believe that there's any contamination at this school, and we believe the school is safe, we're going to take every precaution to make sure that is in fact the case," school Principal Jerry Block told KABC-TV.

However, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between these environmental contaminants and cancer, said Robert Giese, a professor at Northeastern University and a director at the Environmental Cancer Research Center.

"If this excavation took place in 2010, that's typically not enough time to get cancer under way. It's more like 10 to 15 years," he told ABCNews.com. "We know that the environment, in the broadest sense, is responsible for 60 percent to 90 percent of all cancers. But there's a huge issue of susceptibility.

"In terms of the statistics of it, there are so few cases," Giese said of the teachers who are speaking out. "It's a pretty small population."

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