NYC Council Members Introduce PCB Bill

Lawmakers just introduced three bills mandating increased oversight of New York City’s $708 million program to remove <"">PCBs from city schools, said Staten Island Live. Lighting fixtures in New York City schools, long known to be contaminated with PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—were also recently found to contain asbestos.

We’ve been following the threat from PCBs in light ballasts found in schools built prior to 1979. Tests conducted last summer revealed that PCBs can leak into school building air in levels above the federal standard as the fixtures age. Since, the city’s Department of Education (DOE) said it plans on replacing hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures in a 10-year plan. Since that announcement, an American Recycler report revealed that PCBs were also found in the caulk around windows and doors.

PCBs include about 200 compounds and are a class of very toxic chemicals ubiquitously found in construction materials and electrical products in many buildings built from the 1950s until 1978, when they were phased out. PCBs were also used in electrical transformers and capacitors. Although banned, PCBs were an element in school construction and electrical products during this time. In addition to being a skin irritant, PCBs have been linked to some cancers, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.

PCBs are significantly problematic because they 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 on the planet carries some PCBs in his/her body, which can 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.

The bills will require the DOE, as part of its 10-year plan, to assign a trained representative to speak with parents and staff about the removal plan and to ensure schools advise parents if PCB contamination is revealed during a school inspection, said Staten Island Live. “I am pleased the DOE has begun a proactive approach to PCB remediation,” City Councilman Vincent Ignizio (Republican-South Shore) said, quoted Staten Island Live. “Yet, the Council must also be aggressive in ensuring the schools are routinely inspected and the prompt notification to parents is made,” he added.

Councilman Stephen Levin (Democrat-Brooklyn) also introduced a bill that mandates the DOE release quarterly reports to the Council on the project’s progress. “While the remediation plan is a good first step, it is not enough,” said Levin. “All schools should be thoroughly inspected for PCB contamination,” quoted Staten Island Live.

Meanwhile, we recently wrote that the lighting fixtures are also contaminated with asbestos. It seems asbestos was used as insulation in the contaminated fixtures.

Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers is linked to increased risks of lung cancer, mesothelioma—a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity—and asbestosis—in which lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. Many feel using asbestos-containing products may explain—in part—why some non-smokers and persons with no occupational exposures develop these diseases. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. If inhaled, microscopic asbestos particles can penetrate lung tissue and stay there permanently, causing serious, even deadly, respiratory illnesses or cancer than might not manifest until decades after initial exposure.

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