New York City schools must keep parents informed about PCBs in buildings

Dec. 20, 2011
City Council votes to require schools to provide updates about presence of dangerous chemical.

From The New York Times: The New York City Council has voted to require the city to notify parents when toxic chemicals are discovered in the fluorescent light fixtures illuminating many of the classrooms in city schools. The law directs the city's Department of Education to give parents and school staff regular updates on the status of PCB light fixtures and the city's actions to replace them. For years, parent and community groups, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, have warned the city that prolonged exposure to the chemical compound could harm students.

Earlier....from Gotham Schools: Nine months after the New York City announced a 10-year plan to find and remove fluorescent light fixtures in schools that may contain hazardous chemicals, the city's School Construction Authority has released a list of 754 school buildings that have been flagged for followup. The chemicals in question, polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, were present inside some fixtures installed in schools before 1979, when the federal government banned their use.

MORE: The list of 754 schools (New York Lawyers for the Public Interest)


JULY 2011....from The New York Times: Parents in New York City are contending in a lawsuit that the city's school system is moving too slowly to remove potentially hazardous flluorescent light fixtures from school facilities. The suit contends that the city's plan to replace the fixtures over a period ranging up to 10 years puts children at risk and violates the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. The suit was filed by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The school system must inspect about 564,000 ballasts in 772 schools and replacing ones that are leaking PCBs, which are toxic chemical compounds. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and members of the New York City Council have called for completion in five years or less.

APRIL 2011...From The New York Daily News: Asbestos found in New York City schools is hampering the city's ability to speed up its 10-year plan to remove PCB-contaminated lighting fixtures. The asbestos found in the wiring means workers replacing the lights in 772 schools will take longer because of the slow process of removing the cancer-causing materials. The work has to be limited to weekends and holidays when students aren't in the buildings.


MARCH 2011...FromThe New York Times: New York City's 10-year plan to identify and replace school-building light fixtures that are leaking toxic chemicals should be handled in a speedier and more comprehensive fashion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says. The EPA has not determined how much shorter the time frame should be.

FEBRUARY 2011...from The New York Daily News: After a monthslong stalemate between New York City and parents concerned about safe school facilities, the city's Education Department has agreed to replace aging school light fixtures that may contain PCBs. But some critics say the plan's 10-year timeline is too slow. The city has allocated $708 million from its capital budget to replace the old lights--which could contain the potentially cancer-causing toxins--in 772 schools with more energy-efficient fixtures.

EARLIER...From The New York Times: Many parents in New York City have been pressing doctors and government officials to determine the risks of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) leaking from aging lighting ballasts in classrooms. The fixtures remain in some 800 of 1,200 city school buildings, the answers Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has disputed the urgency of replacing all of the T-12-style fluorescent lighting, estimating it would cost about $1 billion. Its negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency continue. DECEMBER 2010...News release: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recommending that schools take steps to reduce potential exposures to PCBs from older fluorescent lighting fixtures. The recommendation is based on evidence that the older ballasts contain PCBs that can leak when the ballasts fail, leading to elevated levels of PCBs in the air of school. The levels should not represent an immediate threat, but could pose health concerns if they persist over time. Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are man-made chemicals that were widely used in construction materials and electrical products prior to 1978. PCBs can affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.

ALSO...from The New York Daily News: The EPA's action comes on the heels of a New York City mom's 2009 lawsuit against the city Department of Education over the cleanup of high PCB levels in her children's school. Earlier...from The New York Times: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to begin inspecting school buildings in New York City next month for contamination with the toxic chemicals known as PCBs in response to a pilot study that found that the substance was leaking from old light fixtures in some schools. The decision follows an exchange of letters between the federal agency and city officials that show the two sides disagreeing over the urgency of addressing a problem that the city says could affect 750 to 850 of about 1,200 school buildings and cost about $1 billion if all the old fluorescent fixtures throughout the school system were to be replaced.

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