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‘Hazardous’ school food signs just a formality

Molly Shore

New signs posted in all Burbank schools warn of potentially hazardous

effects from food and drinks served on campus, but district officials

say the signs are more about complying with state law than about any


real health concerns at local schools.

The signs, which went up for the first time this year in all

Burbank Unified schools, warn that “chemicals known to the state of

California to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive


harm, may be present in foods or beverages sold or served here.”

According to state law, the signs must be placed in areas where

food is served because certain fish with high levels of methylmercury

have been added to a list of about 750 chemicals considered dangerous

to humans, said Dave O’Riordan, Southern California district manager

for Sodexho, the company hired by Burbank Unified to plan district

menus and purchase food. The signage relates to Proposition 65, the

Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.


Appearing before the BUSD board of education at its Thursday

meeting, O’Riordan told board members that certain types of fish --

king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish -- are known to have

high levels of methylmercury.

“The most important part of this is that the fish that we serve

are not on the list,” he told board members.

Nevertheless, he said, state law requires the warning sign be

visible in all school lunchrooms.


Although O’Riordan expressed concern that children might go home

and tell their parents they are being poisoned, Maureen Conklin, the

district’s food services director, said she is attempting to dispel

any fears.

“At this point, I have reached out to the district PTA, and I’m

waiting to meet with them so that they know what this about,” Conklin


Fish sandwiches are served about once a month at the middle

schools and high schools, but O’Riordan said that as of Wednesday,

fish is off the menu at elementary schools.

Following the meeting, board member Ted Bunch said that while it

might be difficult for young children to look up and see the warning

sign, “it’s the law.”

Posting the sign is protection from being sued, Bunch said.

“It’s kind of going back to the lawsuit against McDonald’s over

the hot coffee,” he said. “Now, McDonald’s cups warn, ‘This is hot

and it could burn you.’ ”