District Testing For Vinyl Chloride Vapors

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 23 Mar 2007
Time: 17:12:26
Remote Name:


CAL- District Testing For Vinyl Chloride Vapors

INLAND NEWS: Corona-Norco closer to testing schools for chemical
10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The Press-Enterprise

The Corona-Norco Unified School District will move forward with plans to test two schools for a cancer-causing vapor inside classrooms, school board members said Tuesday. 

The move places the school district among the first in the state to conduct high-tech tests inside classrooms to find vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing gas that can be emitted from vinyl carpets, tiles and wall coverings, which are commonly used in schools. 

The district found itself in the forefront of the emerging vinyl chloride "off-gassing" issue by accident. 

In 2005, officials with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control were tracking an underground plume of pollution in Norco when they found vinyl-chloride gas in Norco High School's library and new science building. The gas was assumed to be from the underground plume from nearby Wyle Labs, a Defense Department contractor that conducted hazardous tests across the street from the school for decades. 

But state officials could find no link between the classroom pollution and the underground plume, leading them to speculate that building materials in the school's new science building were to blame. The possibility has district officials wanting to test new buildings on other campuses to see whether the threat is widespread. 

"At this point, I am not interested in culpability," said board member Bill Hedrick. "I just want to know if there are low levels of vinyl chloride in other schools." 

The effort to test in other schools has stalled in recent weeks as district officials worked to coordinate with state regulators to make sure the test results will be credible and can be used as a base comparison to rule out Wyle as the source at Norco High School. 

During Tuesday's school board meeting, officials sought to speed up the testing process, which can be done in matter of weeks, said Ted Rozzi, the district's superintendent of facilities. 

The district will test at Corona High and El Cerrito Middle schools because there are buildings on those campuses that were built around the same time as Norco High's science building, using the same materials, he said. 

If the building materials are the source of the vinyl-chloride gas at Norco High School, it should also be found at the other schools, Rozzi said.

Looming over the upcoming test results is an unsettling question for parents and district officials: What level of cancer-causing gas is acceptable in a classroom? 

If the building materials prove to be the culprit, it's a question that school districts everywhere may have to address because there are no state or federal guidelines or agencies that regulate levels in indoor air, said William Bosan, the state toxicologist overseeing the Wyle Labs investigation. 

"There is no absolutely safe level," he said. " With any dose of exposure, there will be some risk." 

But the levels found so far at Norco High School do not pose a significant risk, he said. There is no significant threat to students or to teachers who work in the contaminated buildings for decades. 

There is an elevated cancer risk for three people in 1 million, he said. 

Such numbers are troubling to Colleen Whitt, who asked district officials to test the new John F Kennedy High School in Norco, where her daughter is a junior. "Our 16-year-old daughter could not be here tonight because she is at home coping with leukemia," Whitt told the board. 

She said the possibility of a threat from vinyl chloride only adds to her worries because Kennedy was built atop a former landfill, and state officials estimated an elevated risk of cancer there for 1.3 people in 1 million. Though environmental officials deemed the threat so small as to be of no concern, Whitt insists otherwise. 

"Not unless it's you daughter," she told the school board members. "That's strike two for my daughter." 

Whitt's frustration is shared by some parents at Norco High School, where at least five current or recently graduated students have been diagnosed with leukemia. 

Many blame the pollution, although state officials don't believe the cases of cancer are linked to the contamination. Vinyl chloride is generally linked to liver cancer. 

Reach Paige Austin at 951-893-2106


Last changed: March 23, 2007