Oakland, CA (OUSD Release) – Days after McClymonds High School was shut down to students and staff, the campus was bustling with activity for much of Saturday, February 22, as experts in toxic materials and environmental health took dozens of air samples throughout the school buildings. Because of a special piece of equipment, the test results could be seen within minutes. Although these are preliminary test results, they have the experts breathing a sigh of relief. “There is no indication of TCE (trichloroethylene) in any of the areas we have tested so far,” said Cheryl Prowell from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
All the test locations show no evidence of TCE in the air. Prowell added that they didn’t expect to see TCE in the air on campus. “Based on the groundwater results, high concentrations in indoor air would be unlikely but we wanted to use caution and check.”
The air was being tested in about 50 locations, in every space on campus, including every classroom, using large glass syringes. The samples were then fed into a specialized piece of equipment that measures TCE levels in air and shows results within minutes. “We trust this data, but we view it as screening data,” added Prowell. “We really want to see the data from the analytical laboratory before we say with certainty, because the analytical laboratory is a certified method… We don’t have the same level of scrutiny on this field screening method. But when it’s compared to analytical laboratories, it always compares well.”
One place that was tested was the boiler room under the main building, as it is closest to the groundwater where TCE was found. That groundwater is 10-15 feet below the ground and previous testing for a separate unrelated purpose showed TCE levels no higher than 30 micrograms per liter, but still prompting the school closure. That’s compared to a site near the school where TCE was found at 19,000 micrograms per liter. Regardless of the numbers, the concern was that TCE was vaporizing, rising through the ground, passing through the flooring, and contaminating the air inside the school buildings. But as Prowell said, the likelihood of that was low, with such low numbers in the groundwater. “The school district made a very conservative choice to shut down the school, until they knew there was no risk. That was an abundance of caution, and I really appreciate the school district’s proactivity.”
State and Alameda County experts say the TCE in the groundwater came from some still unknown location near the McClymonds campus. There are several known locations in the neighborhood where TCE is an issue. “I am encouraged by today’s preliminary test results, and I hope the final testing shows the same results. We are being vigilant about protecting our school community, which is why I decided we should close McClymonds while we did the testing,” said OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “We are also concerned about our neighbors around McClymonds, as any TCE or other toxic chemicals in the area can cause problems for the residents. The West Oakland community is unfortunately an area that has far too many sites with toxic substances.”
In this coming week, the testing will continue inside the McClymonds buildings with what are called summa canisters, which will give the final test results. Plus, there will be some outside soil testing conducted around the campus.
One point of confusion centers around the groundwater where the TCE was found and how it might relate to the
drinking water on the campus. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) released this statement saying there is no relationship whatsoever: “There are news reports of contaminated groundwater at McClymonds High school near the site of an old fuel tank that has been removed. There is NO threat to EBMUD drinking water, which is sourced from the Mokelumne River and Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra foothills. Groundwater is not our source. In the area by the school, TCE would not be able to enter our pressurized water distribution system. If customers are interested in learning more about their water quality, they can see our Annual Water Quality Report here: ebmud.com/waterquality.”
McClymonds High School will remain closed this coming week, and the students will not have classes on Monday, February 24. District leadership continues to work on plans to have them back in class by Tuesday or Wednesday. The location or locations are still yet to be determined. School and District leadership will inform all students, staff and families as soon as the temporary site(s) is chosen and the date for reopening classes is set.
About the Oakland Unified School District
In California’s most diverse city, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is dedicated to creating a learning environment where “Every Student Thrives!” More than half of our students speak a non-English language at home. And each of our 83 schools is staffed with talented individuals uniting around a common set of values: Students First, Equity, Excellence, Integrity, Cultural Responsiveness and Joy. We are committed to preparing all students for college, career and community success.
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