PCB Cleanup at Massachusetts School

Earlier this week, some 100 parents attended a meeting hosted by the Lexington Public Schools in Massachusetts regarding removal of caulk containing polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) from its Joseph Estabrook Elementary School, wrote Boston.com.

We recently wrote that the New York City Department of Education—with the City of New York 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 PCB caulk in New York City public schools. The City initiated a pilot study to evaluate both the presence of PCB caulk in public school buildings and preferred remedial alternatives. Parents in New York are concerned about PCB levels there, as well.

In Massachusetts, the Joseph Estabrook Elementary School closed when removal of PCB caulk did not sufficiently lower PCB levels there, said Boston.com. Administrators announced that the second phase of the cleanup has begun and officials are planning to reopen the school on Tuesday, following the three-day weekend, noted Boston.com. But, test results are not expected until at least next Thursday, said Boston.com, after the school’s scheduled opening.

Tests last spring revealed unsafe PCB levels in the school’s caulking and a plan was created and approved by the EPA for removal to begin August 24th, said Boston.com, citing Gerard Cody, the town’s health director. The plan was scheduled for completion prior to the school opening Tuesday; however, the Lexington Health Division determined even higher unsafe levels of PCBs, according to the school’s director of public facilities, Pat Goddard, wrote Boston.com.

Some parents are up in arms, urging the school be closed until the risk is eradicated. “My children will not go back,” said Angela Gharabegian, whose two young daughters attend Estabrook. “I don’t trust what is safe and what is not—it doesn’t mean anything to me at this point,” she added, quoted Boston.com.

PCBs—which include some 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 because PCBs were an element in school construction and electrical products during this time, as well, noted NY1 previously.

School Superintendent Paul Ash announced at this week’s meeting in Massachusetts that he will convene an expert panel, that will include three parents, to look at the information and come to some decisions, but only after results are received, said Boston.com. The school actually opened for students on Tuesday; however, parents did not learn of the unsuccessful removal of PCB until Tuesday evening at the meeting, said Boston.com.

Parents are concerned that Ash allowed students to return to a school known to be PCB contaminated. “You never gave us a choice,” Gharabegian said to a group of administrators, experts, and consultants, quoted Boston.com. “You did not give us the parental right to protect our children, and you withheld numbers from us,” she added.

According to Ash, the school remained open following information from the EPA. Kim Tisa, a representative from EPA for New England told Ash that if PCB levels exceed so-called “screening” numbers, the building should be examined, not necessarily closed; Ash also blamed pressure to remain open citing the number of days mandated under state law and that closing school so early in the school year would reduce vacation time, said Boston.com. “Who cares about vacation?” Gharabegian said. “If it comes down to our children’s’ health?” wrote Boston.com.

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