Victory Against PCBs

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Department of Ed to remove toxic chemicals from schools on a faster timeline

The Department of Education has finally given in to parent, teacher and community concerns about dangerous levels of PCBs, a toxic substance found in older light fixtures and transformers, in schools. In a court-ordered move, the Department has agreed to remove PCBs from all 700 affected schools citywide by 2016, instead of the original 10-year remediation timeline, which caused severe backlash from parents demanding swifter action.

"For years, I have battled, along with parents, teachers, advocates and community members to force the DOE act responsibly and in the best interests of the health and safety of our children by removing a carcinogen and known neurotoxin from our kid's schools," said Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who has been active in this issue for years.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are pale viscous liquids that are commonly found in early transformers and fuses, and were used as coolant fluids. In the 1970s, Congress banned the use of PCBs in building materials because it was found to be a possible carcinogen and has negative environmental effects. Older structures in New York City like many school buildings still have PCBs in them.

Earlier this year, the issue gained citywide attention when two Upper West Side schools, P.S. 242, and P.S. 185 were found to have PCB leaks. Parents were notified, and children were sent home. In December, the DOE found itself in hot water when P.S. 87, another Upper West Side school, had PCB leaks. In that case, however, parents were notified three months later of the chemical leakage.

Assembly Member Rosenthal had introduced a bill that would require the DOE to remove the ballasts affected by PCB chemicals.

"It's a great victory but I wish the DOE did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this point," said Rosenthal. "When you have weekly incidents of bulbs bursting in classrooms, something has to be done. It shamed the city into coming up with this agreement."

PCB removal has already begun on schools, though there is no word yet on which schools will be treated first during this removal process. The bulbs will be replaced with new safety bulbs that will be energy-efficient, and ultimately be cheaper to operate in the long term.

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