New York Schools Forced to Ditch PCB-tainted Lighting

The fluorescent light fixtures in many New York schools are contaminated with enormous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), one of the most toxic man-made chemicals. Long-term exposure can damage a child’s ability to learn and a woman’s ability to bear healthy babies, writes Claire Gordon at the Huffington Post.

According to the New York School Construction Authority, 754 schools have fluorescent lights that are likely tainted with PCBs. It is thought that the substance may be leaking into the air and building up in the bodies of teachers and children. Originally, the City denied there was a health risk, but now they’ve conceded that there is one.

They are warning, however, that it may take up to ten years to remove all the potentially toxic lights.

“It’s so scary,” said one parent.

“My daughter is 10. When she’s in her child-bearing years she’s going to have PCBs in her system. It seems like they’re choosing policy over our lives.”

New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has been joined by parents, women’s health activists, environmentalists and lawyers to put pressure on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to act faster. This week more than a dozen elected officials joined a protest on the steps of City Hall. Their slogan was “ABCs not PCBs.”

A year ago, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said, at most, it should only take two years to get rid of the lighting. Not enough progress is being made, says critics.

“Our plan to replace light fixtures in nearly 800 school buildings is unprecedented compared to other cities, and PCBs are a nationwide issue,” said Natalie Ravitz, director of communications for the NYC Department of Education.

“The fact that children are being poisoned elsewhere is not a morally attractive argument,” replied Miranda Massie, the legal director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

It was back in 2004 when researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health originally found PCBs in the caulk that frames windows and doors in Boston-area schools. The PCB levels in a sample of a school’s caulk were 350 times over the federal limit of 50 parts per million.

That research triggered a PCB school cleanup throughout the country, which continues today.