As a number of CityWatch readers already know, one of my top priorities for 2017 is to keep a “watch” — and shine a spotlight — on the continuing scandal of toxic contamination at Portola High School. Another priority is to keep an eye on what President Trump and Congress are doing that directly impacts Irvine.
Portola High School Toxics
Here are the facts about toxic contamination at Portola High School: For years, many of us have warned Irvine School Board members that the site they chose for Portola High School was risky, even dangerous. Why? Because the high school site that the School Board selected is located at the end of major runways at the former El Toro Airbase where — for many decades dating back to the 1940s — tons of fuels and solvents used in military aircraft operations were dumped into the soil.
Last year, belated soil-gas testing ordered by the State confirmed that the 40-acre Portola High School site suffers from site-wide toxic contamination. Of the 17 test wells that were drilled last year, all 17 tested positive for petrochemical contamination — benzene, toluene, and other neurotoxic and cancer-causing chemicals.
Instead of taking immediate next steps to protect future teachers, staff and students, the State and IUSD downplayed the results as “low-level” contamination. They allowed Portola High School to open for the 2016 – 2017 school year with 400 ninth-grade students.
They did this despite the fact that a “clean” school site should have NO detectable petrochemical contamination before occupancy — NONE. As far as we know, every other Irvine school meets this zero-tolerance standard.
Before opening Portola High School last August, the School Board should have done two things immediately: 1) They should have ordered additional soil-gas testing, including under all buildings, to determine the full extent of on-site toxic contamination; and, 2) they should have ordered the installation of air monitoring systems to continuously check air quality in all classrooms and administrative offices to detect any toxic vapor intrusion into the school buildings.
The cost of this air monitoring system? Perhaps $100,000 — a pittance compared to the $300 million cost of Portola High School, and the open-ended legal and moral cost of needlessly exposing thousands of students, teachers and staff to toxic chemicals.
If continuous air monitoring reveals there are serious health and safety problems at Portola High School, we can face those problems head-on. If there are no problems regarding indoor air quality, that will be reassuring for all of us. Let’s get on top of this before this August, when Portola High School will have nearly 1,000 Irvine students enrolled — both ninth-grade and tenth-grade students.
On a personal note, I’ve taken some heat for being so outspoken on the Portola High School toxics matter. People have said to me, “Larry, you always seem to be looking for problems.” Well, I admit it. I do “look for problems” — and many others in Irvine do, too, especially when it comes to the health and safety of our community. The way I figure it, it’s better to look for problems than have problems come looking for you.
Sad to say, Irvine School Board members have yet to learn that lesson.
Friday, March 24th was an historic day in Washington, DC, and it turned out to be a very good day in Irvine. That was the day that the Trump-Ryan bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare went down to defeat in the Congress.
If the Trump-Ryan legislation had passed in the House of Representatives and gone on to become law, more than 10,000 people in Irvine — mostly children — would have almost immediately lost health insurance coverage they gained under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
That would have been a terrible tragedy. The truth is, Obamacare is working in California. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 97 percent of all kids in California now have health insurance coverage — and, because of a strong local effort, that number is probably closer to 100 percent in Irvine.
With the immediate threat of Trumpcare now gone, let’s remember there is still a lot of work to do to continue to improve health care everywhere in America, including here in Irvine.
A final note: Irvine residents need to know that Congresswoman Mimi Walters, our elected representative, was a declared YES vote for Trumpcare — the Trump-Ryan bill — despite being contacted by thousands of her constituents who pleaded with her to vote NO. You may wish to call Mimi Walters’ Irvine office to let her know what you think. Her phone number is: 949-263-8703.