PCB Contamination Closes Connecticut Athletic Fields

Greenwich High School in Connecticut has closed all of its playing fields indefinitely following discovery of soil tainted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The school has been attempting to initiate its preliminary stages of construction for a $29 million music instruction space and auditorium, but has been riddled with contamination issues.

A number of locations continue to be unearthed that revealed soil contaminated with PCBs, said Greenwich Time. Samples taken from a grassy location between the school’s parking lot and fields 3 and 4 were found to contain PCBs; the samples were taken from depths of up to one foot, according to Superintendent of Schools Sidney Freund said Greenwich Time.

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.

Freund said that more thorough testing will be conducted this week to determine the depth of the surface-level PCB contaminant risk, explained Greenwich Time. It remains unclear how long the playing fields will be closed and school district spokeswoman Kim Eves said, “I can’t even speculate about that,” in answer to questions regarding timing. “Environmental consultants are going to start doing more concentrated testing next week,” the Greenwich Time reported.

Samples at the school were taking after contaminated soil was discovered at the school’s MISA construction site where workers noticed soil darker in color than nearby dirt, said the Greenwich Time. Two sets of soil tests were conducted and revealed traces of lead, arsenic, barium, PCBs, and petroleum hydrocarbon; some levels exceeded levels in place for groundwater quality.

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, NYC council members introduced three bills mandating increased oversight of the $708 million program, which will eventually remove the contaminated light fixtures from 754 schools. A group of parents in the city recently filed suit to speed up the plan’s time frame.

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.

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