2010-12-31 / Editorial/Opinion

Putting Our Students At Risk

The city is sparring with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over light fixtures filled with toxic chemicals known as PCBs, that the federal agency believes are putting public school students at risk every day they are in the classroom with the older lighting fixtures. A pilot study completed earlier this year found that PCBs were leaking from the lighting fixtures in many of the city’s older school buildings. As many as 850 school buildings, including at least seven in Rockaway, are impacted. The EPA advised the city to replace the fixtures with newer models that do not use the deadly toxin. The city’s Department of Education responded by saying that its own studies show that the PCBs are “no immediate danger to students or staff,” adding that replacing the fixtures would cost about $1 billion, necessitating the layoff of 15,000 teachers. The EPA has announced that it would begin surveying New York City schools in January and that it would order the city to replace any fixtures it deemed a danger. The city responded by saying, thanks, but no thanks. City officials say they are investigating and will take the necessary steps when the investigation is done, sometime next summer. It seems to us that the city is stalling on a very important issue because it doesn’t want to spend the money to do the right thing. Student and staff health are more important than the expenditure. Even in dire financial times, there is wiggle room to do what is needed to maintain health standards.

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