10 Years Too Long for Removing PCBs from New York City Schools, EPA Says

Federal regulators have rejected New York City’s timetable for removing <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/pcbs_nyc_schools">PCBs, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls, from public schools there. Last month, New York City announced a $708 million, 10 year plan to remove PCB-tainted light ballasts from 772 school buildings in the city. According The New York Times, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) is pushing for a shorter timetable.

“Ten years is too long,” Judith Enck, the EPA’s regional administrator in New York, told the Times. “From our inspections, we’ve found that there’s a problem with leaking light ballasts, and I’d be concerned with the problem lingering for a long period of time.”

For decades, PCBs were widely used as insulating agents in electrical equipment, including transformers and capacitors. PCBs were also used in building materials, including caulk, insulation and floor products, and consumer product such as plastics, adhesives and tapes, and oil based paint. Though PCBs were banned in 1979, the chemicals are resistant to environmental degradation, so they can persist in the environment for decades.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), human health studies indicate that PCB exposure can disrupt reproductive function, and in utero exposure can lead to neurobehavioral and developmental deficits in newborns and continue through school-aged children. Other systemic effects, including liver disease and diabetes, and effects on the thyroid and immune systems are associated with elevated serum levels of PCBs. Increased cancer risks, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are also associated with PCB exposures, the CDC says.

As we’ve reported previously, the EPA believes many light ballasts installed in schools across the country prior to 1979 are contaminated with PCBs. In January, the agency embarked on a pilot testing program to determine the extent of PCBs in New York City schools. The chemicals have turned up in light ballasts in every building the EPA has tested.

New York City’s PCB removal plan stipulates that schools with leaking light ballasts and the oldest elementary schools be addressed first. But Enck told The New York Times that this was “not robust enough,” pointing out that custodial staffs recently reported leaking ballasts at only 26 schools in a one-month period and missed Public School 306 in Brooklyn, which didn’t appear on that list. Enk said the city should “comprehensively look for leaking ballasts and if you find them, remove them right away.”

Others have also complained about New York City’s PCB plan, including City Council members who want the toxins removed from public schools immediately, not a decade from now. According to a report NY 1, some City Council members recently rallied with parents and teachers to pressure the Department of Education officials and the Bloomberg administration to act more quickly.

“Parents send their children to school because they think it is a safe place. Children eat within these eight hours, they have lunch, they have gym. This is about being able to participate actively in the health of our children’s lives,” Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, according to NY 1.

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