PCBs Close More Staten Island Classrooms

Ten classrooms in two elementary schools on Staten Island have been closed as test results are pending on children and staff concerning exposure to the dangerous toxin, <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/pcbs_nyc_schools">Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which has been making headlines for potential contamination in New York City’s school system.

PCBs are man-made chemicals that have been linked to a number of adverse health effects, including, most recently, increased blood pressure. PCBs were widely used in construction materials and electrical products prior to 1978. The toxins can affect the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems and are potentially cancer causing if they build up in the body over long periods of time.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that a total of eight classrooms at P.S. 53 are closed while authorities wait for test results from this weekend’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing. The EPA spot inspection, the first since it expressed frustration over how the city is handling PCBs in city schools, said the Journal. The EPA warned that if the city did not move quickly on the issue that it would begin taking its own action to better understand the scope of PCB contamination in the school system.

The agency and local politicians have been urging the city to address the issue of PCBs in city classrooms, noted the Journal. PCBs are a known component in older fluorescent light fixtures, known as ballasts. When ballasts fail, PCBs can leak, becoming airborne and contaminating those in the area.

According to the Journal, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who represents the city, said that the city’s position is that the PCBs do not pose imminent danger to students and that, at a cost of $1 billion to change the fixtures, the price tag is just too expensive. Officials in the city’s education system argue that PCBs are dangerous when ingested, not inhaled, wrote the Journal. It is believed that inhalation poses the greatest danger in classrooms outfitted with old ballasts.

EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Bellows discussed the inspection at P.S. 53 saying that tests would reveal “if there were leaks that involved PCB-containing fluids in the past, or currently. Once we have valid sample results we will release them to the public and take appropriate action,” quoted the Journal.

Yesterday, we wrote that PCBs were discovered in two classrooms at P.S. 36R on Staten Island, leading to closure of those rooms. Walcott, in his letter to Michael Mulgrew, head of the teachers union, said the move was a “precaution”; the classrooms would stay closed “until we are certain there is no health concerns,” quoted WNYC. Walcott also wrote that, “We do not believe there is a health concern that warrants the closure of P.S. 36 R…. We have already removed the affected material from the classrooms,” quoted the Journal.

Despite Walcott’s assertions that the school is safe, Staten Island councilman Vincent Ignizio disagrees, saying “I don’t believe that the current situation at P.S. 36 is safe for people to be occupying the building,” quoted WNYC.

A pilot study, which was initiated earlier this year, involved three New York City schools. A team involving elected officials, labor unions, and community groups has since demanded testing of some 700 schools that could be PCB contaminated. EPA believes many schools built in the U.S. before 1979 have light ballasts containing PCBs.

PCBs are significantly problematic because they do not easily degrade and 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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