Elected officials and advocates urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Education (DOE) to start investigating the levels of toxic PCBs in hundreds of potentially affected city schools.
The results of a pilot study conducted this year with the federal agency and the city DOE found airborne PCBs that exceeded recommended levels at P.S. 199 on the Upper West Side, P.S. 178 in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s P.S. 309.
From 1950 to 1978, before a Congressional ban went into effect, caulk and lighting ballasts—a fixture that controls electrical flow—used to construct buildings and schools contained PCBs, which studies suggest can cause learning disabilities in children, cancer, and cardiovascular and immune system disease.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, an Upper West Side Democrat, wants Judith Enck, regional administrator for the EPA, to immediately expand its oversight of PCB management in the city’s public schools.
“The problem is much more serious than we originally believed,” Nadler said at a rally at City Hall Oct. 7.
The EPA, in a statement, said the elevated PCB levels found in those schools “do not pose an immediate health risk in the short term.”
“Any needed repairs or renovations to address PCBs problems are conducted in ways that protect everyone who works in NYC school buildings,” siad Bonnie Bellow, an EPA spokesperson, in a statement.
The EPA expressed confidence in the study and said it has been communicating with federal and state officials about the feasibility of funding a broader approach.
The city estimates the price tag to be $1 billion. The EPA wouldn’t foot the entire bill. Already, the city has spent $3 million on remediation efforts. But Nadler said the city would “find the funds if we have to.”
West Side Assembly members Linda Rosenthal and Daniel O’Donnell signed a letter with 15 of their colleagues to Enck asking the federal agency to inspect roughly 700 schools that may have PCB-laden caulk and light fixtures. Rosenthal plans to reintroduce her 2008 legislation that would require citywide testing of schools.
“Are we content to let New York City schoolchildren in untested school buildings serve as the proverbial canaries for future generations?” she asked.
Miranda Massie, litigation and training director with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, expressed concern that the agency’s study downplays the risks of PCBs, she wrote in a letter to the EPA.
“It is important to note that independent experts regard the EPA guidances as inadequately health-protective, in part because they are based exclusively on cancer risks” and overlook “the many other substantial, negative health impacts of PCBs,” she wrote in a letter to the EPA.
The EPA, in its statement, said, “We will continue to work closely with New York City on the pilot program, which we believe is providing valuable information about the extent of the PCB problem and measures we can take to address it.”
That continuation will begin this weekend with an additional round of testing at P.S. 199.
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