The Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) has completed all the testing that they are willing to do to find toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) on the Portola High School site.  As reported last month, all 17 soil-gas test wells showed various combinations of “low levels” of carcinogenic petrochemical VOCs, such as benzene and its derivatives.

One would think that these disturbing results would automatically lead to more testing, to find the source or sources of the toxic contamination. Instead, there is no further testing!

In order to explain the source of the contamination, IUSD’s environmental consultant, Dr. Denise Clendening, of PlaceWorks, concluded that the apparent site-wide toxic contamination was caused by years of recycled water used for  irrigation when the site was farmland.  This absurd explanation was rejected by the Irvine Ranch Water District the very next day in an email communication from their Manager of Quality Control.

The most logical explanation of the site-wide contamination is that various toxic solvents, fuels and other chemicals used for aircraft maintenance were dumped all over what is now the Portola High School site beginning in 1943, when the El Toro Marine Corps airbase became operational.  In fact, that was the explanation posited by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, itself, when it conducted an independent analysis of the contamination, and on March 2nd, sent a letter ordering IUSD to test the interior of the site and find the source or sources of contamination.

Regrettably, IUSD failed to faithfully execute those orders.  So, where does that leave us?

I believe that any responsible parent would want two things to happen:  First, further testing of the site, especially under the buildings, should begin immediately.  Second, a system of continuous air monitoring for VOCs within the buildings should be installed to detect any intrusion of toxic contaminants.  As I’ve previously stated, if IUSD does not commit to these steps, I believe it would be prudent for a parent to ask for a child’s transfer from Portola High School to another high school in Irvine.

Someone has to stand up for these kids!  Make your feelings known to the officials who have the responsibility for the health and safety of your child.

Harvey H. Liss

Harvey H. Liss

Harvey H. Liss, a former Irvine Planning Commissioner, holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mechanics and is a California Licensed Civil Engineer. Dr. Liss is a longtime resident of Woodbridge, the iconic Irvine village he helped design in the 1970s. He now reports for ICNV on environmental issues.
Harvey H. Liss

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