Education / Schools

Lead contamination found in soil at Hollister High School

The amount detected exceeds legal toxicity level, posing a threat to public health or the environment.

This article was update with the correct photo of the site of contamination. 

Hollister residents within a quarter mile of Hollister High School, formerly San Benito High School, received a letter and survey in June from the Department of Toxic Substances Control of California Environmental Protection Agency regarding lead contamination in a 1.5-acre section of the school. 

The location of the affected site was not identified by the letter, which said the affected area was previously used for farm structures and orchards from at least 1939 until the early 1960s when it became part of the high school campus. The original development included a two story building which is still present on the site. It went on to state two elongated classroom buildings were conducted between 1981 and 1998 along the northern and western boundaries of the site. Both buildings have been completely removed.

The amount of lead detected exceeds the office of environmental health hazard assessment blood toxicity level. The preliminary environmental assessment determined there could be a threat to public health or the environment. The department concurs with the conclusion of the survey and says further action for the site is required.

The department said residents will receive an update summarizing the proposed cleanup activities. It will provide an opportunity to review and comment on the draft removal action plan.

High school Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum issued the following statement to BenitoLink.

“Prior to its development as a school site in the early 1960s, portions of the existing 54.11-acre San Benito High School campus were previously used for agricultural purposes. As a result, it was recently discovered that lead-contaminated soils remain present under a 1.48-acre portion of the campus. Although these contaminated soils are largely contained under pavement, San Benito High School District has been working cooperatively with the Department of Toxic Substances Control and recently prepared a Removal Action Workplan (RAW) to address the safe removal of approximately 645 cubic yards of soil from the site if and when a new Student Union/Cafeteria is built. The RAW is a work plan that sets forth the protocols for the cleanup while protecting public health and the environment. This includes a health and safety plan, and measures for air quality control, waste management, and stormwater runoff.”

As part of the process, the California Health and Safety Code sets forth public notice and participation requirements for all Removal Action Workplans across the state. Specifically, the toxic substance control department is required to issue a community service survey, which is a standard informational flier provided to neighbors within a quarter-mile of a project site. Based on community input received, the department will compile a mailing list of those interested in receiving further information on the RAW, and will solicit public comment. More information on the RAW process is available here.

 

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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.