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NYC meets goal for replacing contaminated school lights

[Photo Source] Maryland Pride, Wikipedia


New York City has met a Dec. 31 deadline for removing hundreds of  thousands of light fixtures containing the toxic chemicals known as PCBs from public  schools, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

The cleanup at 883 school buildings throughout the city was completed this month,  agency regional administrator Judith Enck said. She said replacing the aging light fixtures  protects children and staff members from potentially harmful carcinogens while also  boosting energy efficiency by 30 to 50 percent.

"This is great not only from a public health perspective but also from an energy saving  and climate change perspective," Enck said.

New York City officials agreed to complete the PCB cleanup by Dec. 31, 2016, after first  saying they needed until the end of 2021.

The administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to get a federal lawsuit over  the timeline for replacing the light fixtures dismissed. After the judge refused to dismiss the  lawsuit, the city agreed to the expedited cleanup schedule during mediation in 2013.

Enck said the last PCB-laden fixture was removed about 10 days ago.

"Once the city decided to do it, they did a good job," she said. "It was just a real  struggle to get them to do this."

A spokesman for the city law department said the city worked hard to complete the  upgrades and is "pleased to be at the forefront on the national initiative to address PCBs in  historic building materials."

Rachel Spector, the environmental justice program director for New York Lawyers for the  Public Interest, which filed the lawsuit over the light fixtures on behalf of the advocacy  group New York Communities for Change, called the removal of the PCB-contaminated  fixtures "a huge achievement." But Spector said her group is still working with the city to  make sure all the PCB residue from the fixtures is cleaned up.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were widely used in electrical products and building  materials before they were banned in the late 1970s. The EPA says the chemicals are  probable carcinogens and can damage the nervous system, immune system, reproductive  system and endocrine system.

Enck said that some of the light ballasts at city schools had started to leak over time,  leading to elevated PCB levels in the air.