Community meeting hastily called over McClymonds campus contamination

California EPA officials told community members Thursday that they will do extensive testing after a chemical linked to cancer was found in groundwater underneath McClymonds High School in West Oakland. 

"Worried, concerned, scared," said Kimberly Reed, the parent of a McClymonds student who attended a community meeting Thursday night, "I would like to know what is the game plan for next week, and the weeks for come." 

According to the Oakland Unified School District, the cancer-causing chemical tricloroethylene (TCE) was found in groundwater under the campus. The Superintendent, Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell said she decided to close the school temporarily Thursday through next week because of concern that the TCE might be present in vapor inside the school. 

Officials said there are no traces of the compound in the school's drinking water. 

At the community meeting Thursday night at Taylor Methodist Church about one mile from McClymonds, many concerned parents and community members voiced concern and anger over the lack of information about the source of the TCE and any potential health effects on students and neighbors.

"This room should have been packed with families," said Misty Cross, a McClymonds alumna, saying the district and city officials should have provided better notification to residents.

Many people wanted answers about whether the health of the 350 students at McClymonds and the neighbors surrounding the school could be in danger. 

"The levels that we see here, they're just above the level where there might be a problem, where we start asking questions. They're not at the level where I think we should panic." Cheryl Prowell, Unit Chief of the California EPA Dept. of Toxic Substance Control.  

TCE which stands for trichloroethylene is a chemical found in industrial de-greasing products, some pesticides and PVC. It was even used as a pet food additive before being banned in 1977. 

John Sasaki, spokesman for OUSD, said they learned of the TCE by chance last Friday. That's when environmental tests came back from the area where a petroleum tank had been removed from campus last fall.  The TCE was found in groundwater but was not found in any drinking water or irrigation.

"We will be collecting more groundwater samples around the edge of the school to help understand so we can see if that's coming onto the site," said Dilan Roe with the Alameda County Environmental Health Department's Land Water Division. 

Many neighbors off campus were unaware of the problem. The California EPA said they are looking into whether any nearby cleanup sites, such as the Lane Metal Finishing business a tenth of a mile away, might be source of the groundwater contamination.

'We are not going to let this get swept under the rug," said Oakland City Council Member Lynnette Gibson McElhaney.

Families of two McClymonds football players who died of cancer after graduation said they wanted to know how long the TCE had been there. 

Ramone Sanders died of bone cancer and Darryl Aikens died of leukemia.

Dayshante O'Neal, Darryl Aikens godmother said it has been an emotional day and the family wants answers as to how long the TCE might have been present on the school grounds.

"We want them to test the football field. We want them test the entire school. Our kids are there, this is our future," said O'Neal.

The district is planning to hold two meetings on Monday February 24th at West Oakland Middle School Library, 991 14th Street. The meetings will be at 8:30a.m. and 5:30p.m.

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