Oakland High School Closed After Discovery Of Toxic Chemical

All News KCBS Radio
February 20, 2020 - 5:08 pm
Authorities suddenly shut McClymonds High School in Oakland on Feb. 20, 2020 after the discovery of a toxic chemical in groundwater.

Margie Shafer/KCBS Radio


Authorities abruptly closed McClymonds High School in Oakland on Thursday after the discovery of a toxic chemical in groundwater on the property. 

It's unknown when classes will resume, but Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said the hope is to find an alternate site for students as early as Monday. 

Officials were testing for another project when trichloroethylene (TCE) was discovered in the school's groundwater.

The chemical can cause cancer if it becomes a vapor. 

“Being in the groundwater is in and of itself not a problem, because it's so far beneath the surface,” said John Sasaki, a spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District. “It can vaporize. And if it vaporizes inside a building, that's when it can be problematic. So, we’re going to be testing the air inside the building.”

Sasaki said the chemical is not in the drinking water at the school and it has not contaminated water fountains. 

Some churches offered space to hold temporary classes while the West Oakland school is closed, but officials are unable to accept such offers from religious institutions. 

Two star athletes from McClymonds died of cancer in the past few years, Sasaki said.

“Ramon Sanders, a graduate of our school in 2018,” said Sasaki. “He passed in the fall just this past year. His first season at community college he suffered a broken leg and they discovered bone cancer in his leg. Darryl Akins was a football player who died, I believe, in 2017. He died a month after graduation here from McClymonds. He was on the football team, then he was off the football team, getting treatment for Leukemia.”Environmental health officials will be at the school testing the air in the buildings this weekend. 

The Mercury News reports that the chemical appeared to enter the groundwater from a source outside the school, possibly a nearby business.

Reporting by Margie Shafer and Kim Foster.