PCB Light Ballasts in NY Schools Also Tainted by Asbestos

Lighting fixtures in New York City schools, long known to be contaminated with <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/PCBs_health_concerns">PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—have also been found to contain asbestos.

We’ve been following the threat from PCBs in light ballasts found in schools built prior to 1979. Tests conducted last summer revealed that PCBs can leak into school building air in levels about the federal standard as the fixtures age. Since, the city’s Department of Education said at it plans on replacing hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures in a 10-year plan. Since that announcement, an American Recyler report revealed that PCBs were also found in the caulk around windows and doors.

Now, WNYC News said the lighting fixtures are also contaminated with asbestos. It seems that, according to Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, speaking at a City Council committee hearing, the inspection revealed that asbestos was used as insulation in the contaminated fixtures.

“Asbestos comes with its own special rules and containment procedures,” said Grimm who said the deadly contaminant cannot be removed in the evenings and can only be removed during weekends and holidays “because we have to actually contain the area, and make sure that we’re removing it properly and disposing of it properly,” quoted WNYC. Because of this, said Grimm, removal and replacement of all of the PCB-tainted lighting fixtures from the public schools could take up to a decade, said WNYC. Some 800 schools contain contaminated fixtures, said the Department of Education.

PCBs include about 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 other adverse health effects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.

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 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.

Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers is linked to increased risks of lung cancer, mesothelioma—a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity—and asbestosis—in which lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. Many feel using asbestos-containing products may explain—in part—why some non-smokers and persons with no occupational exposures develop these diseases. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. If inhaled, microscopic asbestos particles can penetrate lung tissue and stay there permanently, causing serious, even deadly, respiratory illnesses or cancer than might not manifest until decades after initial exposure.

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