2011-03-04 / Top Stories

Sanders To Host Meeting On Toxic PCBs In Local Schools

By Miriam Rosenberg

Councilman Sanders Councilman Sanders In response to reports that high levels of toxic PCBs were found in the building that is home to Middle School 53 as well as the Village Academy, Councilman James Sanders Jr. has scheduled a community meeting early next week to address the issue.

The concern stems from the announcement by federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it would begin checking school buildings throughout the city that were built prior to the mid-1970s, for light fixtures that are leaking dangerous PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) which were banned in 1978.

The federal inspections come in the wake of an investigation by a parent advocacy group that found cancer-causing toxins in the caulk in windows in six city schools – including Middle School 53.

“Schools are supposed to be a safe haven for our children, a place where they can learn and explore the world, without threats to their health or safety,” said Sanders. “Common sense should tell us not to send our children into a building with a federally banned substance leaking from the ceiling at hundreds of times the acceptable rate.”

The tests funded by The New York Communities for Change, showed the level of PCBs in the six schools that were tested was as high as 325,000 parts per million.

The federal safety standard is 50 parts per million.

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg announced a 10-year plan that would be combined with an effort to go green in the school system, to remove and replace the PCB lighting ballasts in all the city schools.

According to the plan, the DOE will prioritize schools for retrofits in the following order: i) schools with visual leaks, (ii) elementary schools built between 1950 and 1966, (iii) secondary schools built between 1950 and 1966, (iv) elementary schools built between 1967 and 1979, (v) secondary schools built between 1967 and 1979, (vi) elementary schools constructed prior to 1950, and (vii) secondary schools constructed prior to 1950.

“I am glad to see us moving in the right direction on this, but a ten year timetable is ridiculous,” said Sanders. “Ten years down the line, whatever problems our students are going to have will already be starting to manifest. We must convince the Mayor to move far more swiftly to address this real concern. PCBs do their damage over time. To take ten years to address them just makes no sense.”

Schools Chancellor Cathie Black believes the clean-up schedule is a sensible one.

“This is a progressive plan to increase energy efficiency at our schools and simultaneously address the issue of PCBs in old light fixtures,” Black said. “Given that both the EPA and the Department of Health have said there is no immediate health threat to students in these buildings, we believe this is the most responsible way to proceed.

This plan can be accomplished without any significant interruption to student learning, and it will generate significant energy savings in the long run.”

So far EPA’s tests have turned up high levels of PCBs in lighting fixtures in several schools.

A list of the schools checked so far has not been released, but among the Rockaway schools built before 1978 are PS 42 in Arverne, IS 53 in Far Rockaway, PS 104 in Bayswater, PS 114 in Belle Harbor, PS 106 in Edgemere and PS 215 in Wavecrest.

The Monday, March 7 community meeting will be at MS 53/Village Academy located at 10-45 Nameoke Street in Far Rockaway at 7 p.m. Among those expected to attend are IS 53 PTA President Maria Rosario; Village Academy PTA President Aleyne Hughley; NY Communities for Change’s Ann Sullivan; ACORN representative John Kest.

As many as 800 of the City’s 1,200 public schools were built prior to the federal PCB ban, and could contain PCB levels in excess of federal limits. Prolonged exposure to PCBs can result in myriad physical and neurological disorders, including impairment of the immune and reproductive systems, lowered IQ, and cancer.

Late Tuesday the EPA halted all PCB inspections of city schools as a result of the city’s announced remediation plan, according to the Daiily News. Since January, the agency discovered high levels of PCBs in all nine schools it inspected.

“EPA is currently in discussions [with the city] about that plan,” said Mary Mears of the EPA. “We always reserve our right to do inspections.”

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