EPA and NYC PCB Pilot Program Indicates Contamination in City Schools

The New York City Department of Education—with the City of New York (City) and the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA)— reached an agreement earlier this year with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 (EPA) regarding assessment and remediation of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/pcbs_nyc_schools">polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) caulk in public schools. The City initiated a pilot study to evaluate the presence of PCB caulk in public school buildings and preferred remedial alternatives.

We’ve been following the issue of PCB in City schools and wrote earlier this week that the three City schools were tested as part of the pilot: P.S. 199, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; P.S. 178, which is on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx; and P.S. 309, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. All three schools tested with PCB levels higher than levels deemed acceptable by the EPA.

According to pilot study documents, study goals were to measure PCBs in the air, dust, and soil at the schools and determine how to reduce exposure, looking specifically at PCB-containing caulk and if PCB caulk can result in increased PCBs levels in these areas and, if so, how to reduce those levels. Three rounds of tests were conducted at each school in some classrooms and other school areas.

Air tests included pre-remediation air tests, which indicated—in part—elevated PCBs in the schools; post-remediation air tests following completion of work while indicating a decrease, still showed some levels exceeding EPA guidance; and post-lighting fixture removal, which indicated elevated PCBs in air in spaces without PCB-containing caulk. There was also evidence of leaking PCB-containing ballasts in lighting fixtures, which are being replaced. Follow-up testing is planned, according to study documents.

PCBs—which include upwards of 200 compounds—are a class of very toxic chemicals ubiquitously found in construction materials and electrical products in many buildings from the 1950s until 1978, when they were phased out. Despite the phase-out, PCBs may be found in products and materials produced before the 1979 ban. Sadly, PCBs were an element in school construction and electrical products during this time, as well, noted NY1 previously.

This means there exists the potential that countless students could have been exposed over the long-term to this dangerous chemical. Meanwhile, PCBs have not been removed from schools such as P.S. 178 in the Bronx, which tested with levels 2,000 times the legal limit, said NY1.

PCBs do not easily degrade and do bioaccumulate infiltrating plants, crops, fish, and small organisms, ultimately reaching those who eat these products. Because of this, nearly every human being carries some PCB in his/her body, which can also be passed from mothers to children during pregnancy and in breast milk. PCBs can remain in our bodies for many years; the longer we live, the more these toxins build in our systems, increasing in strength over time.

In 2011, the EPA is scheduled to test two more City schools in Queens and Staten Island; however, preliminary results indicate that many City schools, some 1,500, contain dangerous PCB levels, noted NY1. In the meantime, at least one parent has filed a lawsuit, said the Daily News; the parent is urging the Manhattan Federal Court to mandate that the Education Department test for PCB caulk in high-risk schools and mandate that PCB-tainted materials be removed, reported the Daily News.

Of note, according to a The News investigation, although the Education Department cleaned the schools, removing contaminated soil, the contaminated caulk—although legally mandated to be removed—remains, said the Daily News.

While very costly to decontaminate New York City’s schools, adverse health effects, including cancer and other life-threatening diseases and disorders, have been linked to PCB exposure. Worse, because decontamination efforts have not been considered, students continue to be exposed, some at very high levels. The potential health effects over the past five decades are stunning.

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