Oakland Unified School District officials indicated Thursday that McClymonds High School will be closed at least into next week while Alameda County environmental health officials test for the presence of a carcinogen in the school’s groundwater and air.

District officials announced Thursday morning that the school at 2607 Myrtle St. would be closed for the rest of the week after the chemical compound trichloroethylene was found in the school’s groundwater, with drinking water left unexposed.

County environmental health officials first received a report with information on the chemical’s presence in the school’s groundwater in January, school district spokesman John Sasaki said.

After an expedited review period and a meeting with district officials last Friday, the county and the district elected to test for a potential chemical plume, Sasaki said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

Sasaki and Dilan Roe, the chief of the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health’s Land and Water Division, said the closure was due to the chemical’s potential to vaporize into the campus’ air.

Daniel Olsen/Wikimedia Commons McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif. closed Thursday, February 20, 2020 after trichloroethylene was detected in the school’s groundwater.

Sasaki said:

“We are concerned that it could be vaporizing … particularly in our buildings.”

District and county officials know of at least three nearby sites that have high levels of trichloroethylene, which is often used as an industrial solvent and in metal processing. One of those sites, a metal plating facility, is the closest to the school and is no longer active but could still be the source of the chemical leak.

District and county officials could not say for certain how long the compound may have been in the school’s groundwater, but Roe suggested the closure was “really, really conservative” and later added that the campus is the main focus for now.

She said:

“Right now we don’t have any data that says there is (contaminated) groundwater in the neighborhood.”

School district board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge and Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney both said the contamination is indicative of a long history of environmental injustice in West Oakland.

Gibson McElhaney said:

“This is an ongoing concern.”

Ultimately, Sasaki said, the task of mitigating the public’s exposure to toxic chemicals like trichloroethylene falls at the feet of state environmental health officials and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

A community meeting will be held Thursday evening at Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, located at 1188 12th St., for concerned parents of McClymonds High School students. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Roe said the county’s Department of Environmental Health will test the school’s air over the weekend for the chemical’s presence and its concentration will determine the next steps and how soon the school can be reopened.

If the closure extends to next week, Sasaki said a temporary location would be found to accommodate the school’s faculty and roughly 350 students. The district is actively seeking an alternate location in the event it becomes necessary to continue school as scheduled.

Sasaki said:

“We’re going to find a space as quickly as we possibly can to get this back on the road.”

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