PCB Levels in Schools Excessive

Three New York City schools have tested with higher-than-acceptable <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/pcbs_nyc_schools">PCB levels: 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, wrote NY1. All three tested with PCB levels in excess of those deemed acceptable according to federal guidelines.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to test two more New York City schools in Queens and Staten Island; however, preliminary results point to many city schools, some 1,5000, containing dangerous PCB levels, noted NY1. The legal PCB limit is 50 parts per million (ppm). Amounts higher than this are considered toxic under federal law.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls—commonly referred to as PCBs—which include upwards of 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 PCB ban.

Because PCBs do not easily degrade, they can remain in the environment for long periods of time, accumulating in the environment and infiltrating plants, crops, fish, and small organisms. PCBs ultimately reach those who eat fish and animal products through this bioaccumulation. Because of this, 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 can build in our systems, increasing in strength over time.

PCBs were an element in school construction and electrical products from as early as the 1950s and until 1978, said NY1, indicating that countless students over three decades could have been exposed over the long-term to this dangerous chemical. Meanwhile, PCBs have not been removed from schools such as P.S. 178 in the Bronx, which tested with levels 2,000 times the legal limit, said NY1. And, while the Department of Education said that air sample levels improved after PCB-tainted caulking and lightening fixtures were removed from other locations, wrote the New York Daily News, levels remain higher than federal guidelines, explained NY1.

At least one parent is seeking legal action, said the Daily News. Naomi Gonzalez, the mother of Emelina, six, who attends P.S. 178 said, “We’re starting another school year, and the city still has done nothing about this problem,” quoted the Daily News. Gonzalez is filing a lawsuit tomorrow urging the Manhattan Federal Court to mandate that the city Education Department not only test for PCB caulk in high-risk schools, but also require that PCB-tainted materials be removed, reported the Daily News.

Following a The News’ investigation, the Education Department cleaned the schools, removing contaminated soil; however, after tests indicated a low risk, the contaminated caulk—although legally mandated to be removed—remains, said the Daily News.

Although very costly to decontaminate New York City’s schools, adverse health effects, including cancer and other life-threatening diseases and disorders, have been linked to PCB exposure. Worse, because decontamination efforts have not been considered, students continue to be exposed—some at very high levels—to this banned toxin. The potential health effects over the past five decades are stunning.

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