2011-12-23 / Top Stories

City Council:Warn ParentsAbout Dangerous PCBs

The City Council has voted on two bills that call on the Department of Education (DOE) to provide vital and comprehensive information on PCBs in New York City public schools. Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are chemicals that were widely used in construction and electrical materials prior to 1978. PCBs may be present in overhead fluorescent light ballasts installed before this year and can be toxic to children through long-term exposure.

A number of Rockaway schools, including Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park and Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway, have been found to have the cancer-causing agents. Other Rockaway schools, mostly those that were built in the 1950s and 1960s, are also at risk, but have yet to be tested by the city’s program.

The Council will also vote to improve tenant safety by requiring landlords to replace expired carbon monoxide detectors with new models that emit an audible beep when they no longer function properly. Installed under a 2004 law, the devices are now coming to the end of their useful life, potentially putting tenants in danger.

The Council will vote on legislation requiring action on the part of DOE to ensure that public school parents and employees know whether or not PCBs have been found in their schools.

The first bill (Intro 563-A) calls on the DOE to notify parents of students and employees in any New York City public school (including charter schools) of PCB testing or inspection results. Notification must be made within seven days of receiving the results, whether positive or negative. Additionally, parents and employees must also be told what steps the City has taken, or will take, towards complete PCB clean-up, along with a timeframe for this remediation. If clean-up is not completed within the original timeframe given, the legislation requires the agency to inform parents and employees of a new plan.

Finally, if a school is identified as part of DOE’s PCB lighting removal plan, parents of children who attend the school and its employees would need to be alerted every year of why they are part of the plan and of the timeframe for PCB clean-up. This notice would be on an annual basis, beginning in April 2012, and in November every year following.

A second bill (Intro 566-A) being considered today requires the DOE to submit an annual report to the Council on its progress to rid light fixtures of PCBs and to address issues related to PCBs in window caulk. The report would provide an updated list of all City public schools (including charter schools) identified as part of the plan, along with a timeframe for clean-up. In addition, a list of schools in which PCB levels have been addressed, an explanation of the way the situation was handled (e.g., whether light fixtures and floor tiles were removed) and how long the process took, would be included. Finally, the report would require information on the agency’s efforts to address PCBs in caulk, including test results of pilot studies the DOE is conducting pursuant to a consent order with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This law would sunset upon completion of the PCB lighting removal plan. To ensure transparency, both of these bills call on the DOE to post test results and reports on its website.

“We in the Council have great concern for the health and well-being of children and employees who learn and work in New York City public school buildings,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Parents deserve to know what type of environment their children are learning in, and school employees should be able to walk into their buildings with knowledge, not fear. Having continuously monitored this issue, the Council will now vote to establish regular notification and reporting of the status of PCBs in schools. Currently, the DOE’s policy on this issue is unclear, inconsistent or nonexistent. These bills will change that.”

“We’ve come a long way since PCB oil was discovered on the floor at PS36, and I am pleased that legislation protecting kids citywide is the ultimate result of that scare. The danger of PCBs is real, but the fear of it does not need to be compounded by lack of information or the failure of the DOE to notify parents and teachers. These two bills will go a long way in the fight to keep our kids safe,” said Councilmember Vincent Ignizio, lead sponsor of the notification bill.

“The City has a responsibility to be transparent on matters of personal safety and this bill represents the fight to protect our most important citizens,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin, lead sponsor of the reporting bill. “Teachers and schoolchildren are second to none when it comes to the future of New York. There are more than 240 infected schools in Brooklyn and over 750 citywide. That adds up to tens of thousands of young people exposed to PCBs who may have serious medical complications down the road including learning deficits, endocrine disruption and cancer. I am proud to work with NY Communities for Change, the United Federation of Teachers, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the SEIU 32BJ on this bill. I also want to extend my gratitude to Speaker Quinn, Education Committee Chair Jackson, and a special thanks to Councilmember Ignizio for co-sponsoring this important legislation.”

“Expert after expert has testified as to the grave risk PCB exposure has on pregnant women and women of childbearing age,” said Councilmember David Greenfield. “That’s why I drafted legislation that would specifically notify teachers and other staff members, who have dedicated their careers to educating our children, when they may be exposed to PCBs. “PCBs in schools pose a serious threat to the health of our children. Parents, educators, and the rest of the public have a right to know what measures are being taken to protect students from harm,

“As a City Council, we have to continue to provide oversight to ensure that our children’s health and safety is a number one priority in schools. As Chair of the Education Committee, I join Speaker Quinn in making sure that this occurs,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson.

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