Friday, February 23, 2007

School Board to Test for Vinyl Chloride

The Corona-Norco school board voted Tuesday night to test the air at two local schools for a cancer-causing chemical that has been found at Norco High.

Over the next month, new science buildings at El Cerrito Middle and Corona High will be tested to see if plastics in the building are emitting a vapor called vinyl chloride.

Low levels of the same chemical have been found at Norco High for more than a year, but officials have presumed that the gas was coming from an underground plume of pollution from a nearby toxic-waste site.

However, earlier this month soil gas tests showed no link to the underground plume, prompting state regulators to consider building materials as the potential source.

Test results at the other two schools could reveal whether Wyle or the building materials are to blame for Norco High's problems. If the schools do test positive for the chemical, the district would also have to decide how to deal with the pollution.

Board member Bill Hedrick spearheaded this week's unanimous decision to test at other schools.

There is "no safe level" of vinyl chloride, he said.

"Whether they find a small amount or a large amount, it's got to be mitigated," Hedrick said. "Unfortunately, this is such a bad player you really don't want any of it."

Hedrick said mortgage companies have been reluctant to make loans for homes in the area.

"If mortgage companies look at it and go, we have questions, how much more of an obligation do we have as a school district to ensure safety?" he said.

It is not the first time the school district has grappled with hazardous materials in the schools, said Ted Rozzi, the district's assistant superintendent for facilities.

Over the past decade, the district mitigated hazardous mold and cancer-causing formaldehyde vapor from materials used to make portable classrooms. If found elsewhere, air circulation systems could help treat the vinyl chloride gas, he said.

In the meantime, officials with California's Department of Toxic Substances Control will continue to test for a link between the contamination at Norco High and the plume from Wyle Labs, a former hazardous-testing facility across the street from the school.

As for the building materials, the potential sources are the same poly vinyl tiles, carpets and wall coverings used in the other schools and in buildings around the nation. Such materials are capable of "off-gassing" -- defined as emission through evaporation.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vinyl chloride is a carcinogen that chemically alters DNA in ways that could lead to the development of tumors, liver cancer, brain cancer and angiosarcoma.

The levels found so far don't pose a health threat to students but could slightly increase the risk of cancer for teachers working in the building over a period of decades, said a state toxicologist.

At least four cases of leukemia among Norco High students in recent years have raised concerns about students' health.

No such illnesses or concerns have been linked to Corona High, said Patti Anders, the school's Parent Teacher Association president.

"I think it's good that they're testing," she said. "At least this way, they can find out what's causing the problem at Norco High School."

Bagolie Friedman Injury Lawyers can help victims of vinyl chloride and PVC exposure. Contact them now, toll free at 1-866-333-3529 for a confidential and free consultation.