NYC Schools PCB Plan Sparks Lawsuit

Following approval of a decade-long plan to replace old, <"">PCB-tainted light figures in New York City schools, a community group just filed a federal lawsuit to speed the process. PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, are suspected carcinogens.

We’ve been following the threat from PCBs in light ballasts found in schools built prior to 1979. Tests conducted in New York City schools 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 PCB-tainted lighting fixtures in a 10-year plan. In May, New York City council members introduced three bills mandating increased oversight of the $708 million program, which will eventually remove the contaminated light fixtures from 754 city schools.

New York City’s 10-year time frame for dealing with the PCB-tainted light fixtures has been criticized by some as taking too long and further exposing school children and teaching staff to unnecessary toxins. This new lawsuit was filed on behalf of New York Communities for Change, which is comprised of thousands of New York City parents.

PCBs include some 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 adverse health effects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. PCBs also accumulate in the environment, presenting serious health issues.

According to the Department of Education’s spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz, “While some people think we should spend more and do this faster, we continue to believe this is an aggressive, environmentally responsible plan that will cause minimum disruption to student learning and generate significant energy savings for the city and taxpayers in the long run,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

New York Communities for Change disagrees, its representatives describing the 10-year time frame “laughable” and saying that the work could be completed in a fraction of the time: 2 years.

The group also notes that the lights are over 30 years old and continually failing and leaking, which leads to increasing exposure to PCBs, reported the Journal. City officials disagree and argue that the children are not in any immediate danger. The city argued for months against the work, saying it was too expensive and would result in teacher layoffs, said the Journal.

The community group says the 10-year time frame is wasteful, that newer, efficacy replacement lights would pay for themselves over time with lower electric bills.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Brooklyn, notes that New York City’s plan is in violation of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, said the Journal.

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