The West Linn-Wilsonville (Ore.) School District was fined $328,300 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for mishandling of PCBs that leaked from light fixtures into classrooms and onto a schoolyard.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used years ago as insulating fluids to reduce the risk of fire, but in 1977 the EPA banned their manufacture because of possible cancer risks.
“Our proposed fine reflects the multiple, repeated violations of laws meant to protect all of us, especially kids,” said Chuck Clarke, EPA regional administrator, after the fine was announced Feb. 1.
Roger Woehl, superintendent of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, said the district planned to appeal the fine and also would seek credit against the fine for what the district already has spent to correct the PCB problems.
While the district acknowledges violation of some EPA regulations, Woehl said some of the fines were related to cleanups required by the EPA.
Dan Opalski, director of the EPA’s Oregon operations office, said federal toxicologists think health risks to students or staff from the reported leaks are low. But they have not been able to fully quantify the risks because they have no way find out the number and duration of direct contacts with PCBs.
Had the district followed EPA regulations, parents and staff would know the answers, Opalski said.
The EPA began investigating the district’s handling of PCBs after a teacher complained about a leak at Wilsonville Primary School last June. During the summer, EPA officials focused on the scope of those PCB leaks and the cleanup.
The agency ruled in September that the district adequately met federal requirements for cleaning up those leaks.
The EPA then took a second look at information collected during its summertime investigation to see which regulations had been violated. Investigators determined that the school had delayed cleanups of previous PCB leaks for at least a year, had inadequately cleaned them up, then improperly disposed of leaking fixtures, all violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The schools affected were Wilsonville Primary, West Linn High, and Stafford Primary.
Superintendent Woehl said all light fixtures possibly containing PCBs have been replaced at all schools.
Senate turns down $2 million request for asbestos abatement
The Colorado state Senate turned down a request for $2 million Feb. 23 to begin cleaning up asbestos at Fort Morgan High School, telling the school district to ask the state Department of Education for help.
Sen. Stan Matsunaka, D-Loveland, asked the Senate to earmark the money in a supplemental appropriation to the Department of Education so cleanup work could begin as soon as possible.
“These folks don’t have the money,” Matsunaka told senators.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, D-Lakewood, supported the request.
“We need to respond to a problem that exists out there,” he said. “Do what is right by the kids in Fort Morgan.”
But the Senate turned down the request 16-19 on a roll call.
Matsunaka said the Legislature had an obligation to get money to the school as soon as possible because the state Health Department shut it down.
But Sen. Elsie Lacy, who sits on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, opposed the move, saying the Department of Education has a contingency fund that should be used.
Matsunaka said the fund has only $750,000 left and the school needs to begin cleanup as soon as possible. He said the cleanup alone is expected to cost more than $4 million.
The Health Department closed the high school indefinitely Feb. 3 because of high levels of asbestos. About 1,000 students and staff are sharing classroom space on a split schedule with younger students at Fort Morgan’s middle school.
Students are expected to be dismissed for the summer June 2 as scheduled.
Asbestos, a natural fiber, was used as a building insulation until the late 1970s, when workers exposed to the fibers developed cancer. n