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NYC To Remove PCB Contamination From Schools

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- PCBs are among the most closely-studied toxic chemicals, and for years they were in many New York City schools. Now the Bloomberg Administration is caving to federal pressure and orchestrating a comprehensive cleanup plan, Jay Dow reports.

Fluorescent Light In NYC School
Fluorescent Light In NYC School (credit: CBS 2)

The administration reversed course and began to implement a full scale, long term 10-year program to rid the city's schools of PCB. The toxic chemical, which has been linked to cancer, has also been shown to cause nerve damage and affect brain function, particularly in children who have been exposed.

"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,'' schools Chancellor Cathie Black said in a statement.

Has NYC ignored PCBs for too long? Is this too little, too late? Sound off in our comments section.

Parents who live near P.S. 45 in Bushwick, where contamination levels were off the charts, said the program was a step in the right direction.

WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reports from City Hall


"I think it's a good job that they're getting on it, jumping on it, because maybe a lot of kids or a lot of people probably got damaged from that," said Gilbert Brown of Brooklyn.

"I would hate for children to have illness because of a failure to act," said parent Mark Garraway.

The most recent results at the school were staggering. All 19 of the fixtures tested had PCB concentrations up to 670 parts per million, whereas the federal limit is only 50 ppm.

Those contaminated light fixtures have already been removed. Environmental advocates said it's about time the city finally acknowledged this is a citywide problem.

"They have neurological effects, which are of particular importance to growing school children because we're talking about brain function and learning ability, so it's right on target here in schools that these issues need to be addressed," said David Newman, industrial hygenist with the New York Committee For Occupational Safety And Health.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, however, said the city's plans don't go far enough. "That is way too long. This blatant disregard for the health and welfare of our children is unacceptable."

"We can't wait any longer when our children's health is at risk," said Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.

"To allow a 10-year remediation plan is to allow 10 years for potentially hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to be exposed on a long-term basis to carinogenic, cancer-causing and otherwise harmful chemicals," Congressman Jerrold Nadler said.

The inspection will continue to focus on any contaminated fluorescent light fixtures, typically the source of the problem, and that they'll be removed when students are not in the building, primarily during the weekend, vacation breaks and summer recess.

1010 WINS' Stan Brooks with Congressman Jerrold Nadler who rejects the 10-year plan


The top priority are schools with visual leaks, followed by elementary and secondary schools built between 1950 and 1966.

The problem lies in the toxic chemical that leaks in the form of an oily liquid from damaged or burned out black capacitors attached to those outdated, lighting fixtures. The chemical PCB was banned in 1978.

In addition to replacing all PCB lighting fixtures, the city's program also includes the replacement of outdated fuel oil boilers where necessary.

EPA officials were pleased by the city's apparent decision to reverse course and turn the lights out on the PCB heath risk.

"In this era of diminishing tax dollars, it is strategic and wise for the city to be looking at private financing for such an essential energy conservation and public health protection initiative," said Judith Ench, EPA regional administrator in New York.

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