City to Remove PCBs in NYC Schools

by Claudia Morell
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Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal
Claudia Morell, WFUV

The city has announced a plan to remove PCBs in city schools, but not all New York lawmakers are happy.

After a barrage of complaints from parents and local officials, the New York City Department of Education unveiled a plan on Wednesday to remove potentially dangerous PCBs from city schools. 


The $708 million dollar plan is expected to take 10 years to complete and proposes to remove all PCB affected light fixtures in some 800 city schools. The Department of Education said the plan will not only reduce potential exposure to the cancer causing PCBs, but will also reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 200,000 metric tons per year as the city implements greener lighting. 

Schools Chancellor Cathie Black issued a statement on the proposed project: “Given that both the EPA and the Department of Health have said there is no immediate health threat to students in these buildings, we believe this is the most responsible way to proceed.  This plan can be accomplished without any significant interruption to student learning, and it will generate significant energy savings in the long run.”

Some New York Lawmakers think the threat of PCBs is more pressing, as the possible long-term effects are serious immune-system, neurological, and reproductive problems.  They are backing a piece of legislation spearheaded by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, demanding the city expedite the process to a maximum of five years. 

New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler agrees with Rosenthal.  He said the city needs to take immediate responsibility. “It should not wait to be solved in more than two or three years.  There are ways in financing it, but there are no ways in which we with conscious can allow our children and staffs to be exposed on a continuing basis.” 

Many of the schools tested by the EPA were well above the federal regulatory limits of 50 parts per million for PCB contamination.  Schools that were found to have high concentrations of PCBs were built between the 1950s and 1970s, when the chemicals were commonly used as insulators in electrical equipment for their high tolerance to heat and inability to burn easily.  It was not until 1977 that Congress banned the production of PCBs for the health risks they posed.

New York’s Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott said the city’s approach was “the most aggressive investment ever made by any city to address the issue of PCBs in schools.”
 

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