Critics say families lack details about toxin removal
By Sarina Trangle
On April 12, the City Council sent a letter to Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott saying the DOE had failed to uphold a 2011 city law requiring it to notify staff and families when embarking on PCB removal.
According to a law passed in December 2011, the DOE is required to send out written notifications to students and staff at 772 schools with T-12 lighting fixtures installed before 1978, the year polychlorinated biphenyls — often called PCBs — were banned.
The chemical was used in light ballasts — which control the amount of current in an electrical circuit — and was added to caulk surrounding windows and doors in schools built before that year. As building materials decay, PCBs may enter the air and become a health risk.
After losing a lawsuit about the toxins, the DOE undertook a pilot study for PCBs in schools and in February 2011 embarked on a ten-year plan to replace all T-12 light fixtures with new technology.
Since then, PS 7 and the Bronx High School of Science have had their T-12 lights removed, according to the DOE. According to the school and the DOE, PS 37 was erroneously placed on a previous list for schools containing pre-1978 T-12 light fixtures and has since been removed. The Robert J. Christen School, PS 81 is included on the DOE’s list of buildings slated to get new lighting.
PCBs have been linked to attention deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and other health problems, according to the New York Lawyers for Public Interest, which originally sued the city on behalf of a Bronx family whose child had been exposed to PCBs at school.
But some say not enough information about the toxin is getting through.
The letter signed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson, Councilman Vincent Ignizio, Councilman Stephen Levin and Councilman David Greenfield, said notices sent to families failed to explain when the lights would be replaced, the results of inspections and testing for PCB levels or what steps the DOE would take to address the problem of PCBs in schools where they were discovered.