Vapor samples taken over the weekend at Oakland's McClymonds High School show no signs of trichloroethylene — or TCE. (Courtesy of Oakland Unified School District)
This story was last updated at 4:30 p.m.

Classes will resume Tuesday for McClymonds High School students at nearby Oakland campuses while the school remains closed due to the Feb. 14 discovery of a cancer-causing chemical in the groundwater.

Freshmen will attend class at Ralph J. Bunche Academy, sophomores and juniors will attend West Oakland Middle School and seniors will attend Westlake Middle School, Oakland Unified spokesman John Sasaki said Monday.

Sasaki said the 350-student school will remain closed throughout the week and possibly into next week as authorities continue taking air samples from McClymonds and as they await lab results for testing conducted over the weekend, Sasaki said.

While classes are taught at the alternative locations, groups of students will be taken on field trips to UC Berkeley, the De Young Museum in San Francisco and other locations, Sasaki said.

Air testing conducted over the weekend at West Oakland’s McClymonds High School — where the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene (TCE) was found in the groundwater Feb. 14 — show no signs that the chemical vaporized into the air on campus.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control continued to test the air in the campus, district officials said. The district briefed the community at a meeting Monday morning, but barred reporters from attending. Sasaki said the meeting was “meant specifically for families and staff.” The district will hold another meeting at 5:30 p.m. at West Oakland Middle School.

“This is not a public meeting. It is not open to the general public; it is just for the students, staff and families of McClymonds. Public meeting laws apply to legislative body meetings, such as Board of Education meetings. They do not apply in this case,” Sasaki said in an email to EdSource, referring to the state’s open meetings law known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Authorities discovered the TCE in the groundwater while investigating whether an underground petroleum tank that was removed years ago from underneath the campus had leaked. The district decided Wednesday to close the campus as a precaution while testing was conducted.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control, over the weekend, took air samples from around 50 locations throughout the campus, including every classroom, district officials said. Glass syringes were used to collect the samples which were fed into specialized equipment that show almost immediately whether there is TCE in the air. The samples showed zero percent levels of TCE.

Before authorities can say for certain whether the air is free of TCE, the samples must be analyzed in a laboratory, said Department of Toxic Substances Control engineer Cheryl Powell in the news release. Powell said she is hopeful that the lab tests will confirm that the chemical is not in the air in the school.

“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,” Powell said.

Authorities have not yet determined where the TCE in the groundwater came from, though they believe it came from somewhere near the McClymonds campus.

Trichloroethylene, an organic chemical, is used in dry cleaning and degreasing metal and as a solvent for oils and resins. According to the National Institutes of Health, it has been shown to cause liver and kidney cancer in experimental animals.

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.