PCB Check Set For New York City Schools

The remediation of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/pcbs_nyc_schools">polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) present in public schools could cost about $1 billion, according to New York City officials who are seeking additional time before moving forward, According to The Wall Street Journal. The $1 billion represents the cost to replace PCB-contaminated lights in about 800 schools.

A PCB study, which was initiated earlier this year, involved three New York City schools; however, a team involving elected officials, labor unions, and community groups demanded that testing of some 700 schools that could be PCB contaminated.

PCBs—which have been making headlines in recent weeks for their part in contaminating NY City’s Newton Creek and Hudson River, in addition to NY City schools—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. This means 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.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked the City of New York to replace all lighting fixtures potentially tainted with PCPs to be replaced in the school system; however, officials in education say they need more time to complete a review of the matter and would like to develop a remediation plan, said the Journal.

The city “has no sense of urgency and all they seem to be doing is avoiding spending the money,” said U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler whose congressional district includes P.S. 199, said the Journal. The three city schools tested as part of the pilot PCB testing program—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 tested with PCB levels higher those deemed acceptable by the EPA.

Deputy Mayor Dennis wrote to the EPA in November saying that the city should complete its pilot program of PCB testing and then create a citywide “PCB management plan,” wrote the Journal. He also said that the EPA and city health officials “agree that there is no immediate health risk to students and staff occupying schools buildings that have PCB containing building materials,” quoted the Journal.

That argument “misses the point,” said Dr. Robert Herrick, senior lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health. “When you’re dealing with anything that has a chronic health effect, you could make the argument it doesn’t have an immediate risk. If you smoke a cigarette today, you’re not going to die of cancer tomorrow, so it’s not an immediate health risk,” quoted the Journal.

According to the city, PCB exposure in humans occurs by ingestion, not inhalation, as would occur in contaminated schools, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has described the project as continuing over decades, said the Journal. Those advocating a swift cleanup say these responses are insufficient.

Miranda Massie, an attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a civil-rights firm, agrees, saying the city should immediately remove the contaminated lights and follow with citywide testing and a “triage” removal plan. It was a lawsuit filed last year by Ms. Massie’s firm that led to the pilot testing program, said the Journal.

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