PCB-leaking lights were discovered at a Long Island City school, just as the new school year gets underway and following a similar incident last week. Parents are demanding answers and action.
The parent’s concern is not unfounded. PCBs—or polychlorinated biphenyls—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.
The current school affected by a leaking light is I.S. 204 in Long Island City, Queens, said CBS New York. “They should all be gone today. We cannot wait to take a chance,” parent Joynan Abeein told CBS 2′s John Slattery.
On Monday, school officials said that a custodian found a light fixture leaking PCB-containing liquid onto the floor of a counselor’s office. “The room was closed. We removed the fixture last night. We are following protocol and will be notifying parents,” Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg said, according to CBS New York.
Last week, Staten Island, New York’s P.S. 41 also had a leaking light ballast. In that case, fifth-grade student, Gabby Sferrazza was in classroom when a defective light ballast dripped onto her desk, as well as onto her clothing, said CBS New York.
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 in 2010 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 planned on replacing hundreds of thousands of PCB-tainted lighting fixtures in a 10-year plan. Last 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.
According to CBS New York, 83 schools have been completed and 117 are in progress. Public watchdog, Lawyers for the Public Interest, says the PCB leaks are distressing. “PCBs are volatilizing in the air. It is contaminating the air. So every student in that classroom is breathing contaminated PCBs,” said Christina Giorgio, of the group, which has gone to court to speed the process.
In a prior statement issued by Department of Education spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz said, “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.”