The long-simmering Irvine controversy over the Portola High School site — where there is mounting evidence of serious toxic contamination — has recently made its way to Sacramento. In fact, the worrisome problem is now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.
In a four-page letter that reads like a legal brief, Larry Agran, formerly Irvine’s Mayor and long-time City Councilmember, has called on Governor Jerry Brown to order “immediate, comprehensive soil-gas testing for toxics” on the entire 40-acre Portola High School site — before the school is fully built and occupied.
Agran has long opposed locating the new high school site on the abandoned El Toro Marine Corps airbase, along Irvine Boulevard. He has repeatedly pointed to its proximity to a toxic waste dump — just 800 feet from the high school. And, as was later revealed in the Irvine Community News & Views 5-part series on toxic contamination, the Portola High School site is located at the end of the El Toro airbase runways, where military personnel for many years directly dumped tons of fuels, solvents, and other hazardous substances.
In his letter, Agran pointed to data about toxic contamination acquired under the California Public Records Act. These records revealed that while just a small number of test wells were drilled at the perimeter of the school site, the tests — coupled with accidental discoveries during excavations — confirmed serious toxic contamination. The toxics included dangerous heavy metals and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals on all four perimeter sides of the Portola High School site.
The records also revealed that virtually all of the interior of the 40-acre high school site has not been tested for the same toxic and carcinogenic agents associated with long-ago military operations.
Agran asks in his letter: “What are the chances — after having found significant quantities of [toxic and even cancer-causing compounds] present along the four-sided perimeter of the school site — that the entire untested interior of the 40-acre site would somehow be free of serious toxic contamination?”
Agran answers his own question: “Most people would likely say the chances are ‘zero’ or close to it.” He continued: “That’s why we need testing…before teachers, staff and students occupy facilities, risking exposure.”
The testing that Agran calls for would involve about 100 soil-gas test wells, drilled at a cost of just under $1,000 per well — or about $100,000 for all the testing. Agran calls this “a pittance when it’s compared with the $300 million cost for land and construction of the new high school, and the incalculable legal and moral liability in the event that we fail to test now, and toxic exposure later leads to diseases, disabilities and even deaths.”
In his appeal to Governor Brown, Agran noted that many scientific experts and others — including nearly 1,500 Irvine families who have signed a School Safety Petition — have called upon the Irvine Unified School Board and the City of Irvine to undertake immediate, comprehensive testing. “All of our requests,” he said, “have been met with stony silence.”
”Meanwhile,” Agran pointedly writes to Governor Brown, “the Department of Toxic Substances Control — the State agency charged with protecting the public from toxic exposure in schools and elsewhere — has shown itself time and again to be weak and unresponsive, cravenly dismissive of well-founded public concerns.”
“As a result,” Agran concludes, “much of the Irvine community remains increasingly worried that thousands of future students, teachers and staff will be put at risk of toxic exposure when Portola High School opens in September, 2016.”