“Alternative Facts” — The new unreality at Portola High School!

I’m afraid that IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker, his Board and their environmental consultant, as well as the State, have all beaten President Trump to the Alternative Facts unreality by several years in declaring repeatedly that the Portola High School site is “safe.”  A totally unsupported declaration is not an Actual Fact.

The reality is that Actual Facts have always been in plain sight, if only IUSD officials cared enough to look at the available documents and draw common-sense conclusions.

Actual Facts

The Actual Fact is that the most recent set of soil-gas tests, performed in March and April of 2016, in the interior of the 40-acre Portola High School site revealed that all 17 soil-gas test wells turned up varying levels of toluene, as well as various combinations of other toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Benzene, a potent carcinogen, was detected in four of the test wells.

But, rather than provoking officials to conduct more intensive testing to find higher concentrations of VOCs on the site — especially under the buildings — IUSD and State officials decided to halt testing
and begin repeating the Alternative Fact that the site was “safe.”  (Does this sound like Flint?)

The Actual Fact is that the locations and maximum concentrations of VOCs on the Portola High School site remain absolutely unknown.  So, the debate over what level of contamination is unsafe is still premature, although it is now widely accepted that for benzene and toluene there are no safe levels, since their effects are cumulative.

Toluene Contamination

For example, toluene is a neurotoxicant that affects the growth and development of the brain and Central Nervous System (CNS), and is particularly dangerous to children and pregnant women.  According to a March, 2014 article on neurotoxicants in the highly-respected medical journal, The Lancet, toluene is listed as a developmental neurotoxicant.  The article states:

“Developmental neurotoxicity causes brain damage that is too often untreatable and frequently permanent. The consequence of such brain damage is impaired CNS function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior.”

Testing School Buildings

The danger of these VOCs in the soil is that their vapors rise up and accumulate under buildings.
Eventually, they seep into the buildings via foundation penetrations for plumbing and other utilities, as well as through inevitable cracks in the slab foundation.

At this point, it is irresponsible and a risk to the health of all school occupants to not fully test the site, especially the soil under the buildings, in order to truly determine the actual levels of contamination.

It is also imperative that continuous air monitoring equipment be installed inside the school buildings to reveal any vapor intrusion from these dangerous VOCs.  It is, after all, inside the buildings where teachers, staff and students would be primarily exposed.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign the Safe Schools
Petition at:  irvinecommunitynews.org/safe-schools-2

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