EPA Tells Schools Caulk May be ToxicSep 29, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced that caulk found around windows and doors in hundreds of schools nationwide may contain PCBs, which are potentially cancer causing, reported the Associated Press (AP).
Boston.com wrote that the EPA urges building owners, such as school building owners, to test “brittle, aging masonry and window caulking” for PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), especially in older structures. The recommendation involves buildings built or renovated between 1950 and 1978; PCBs were banned in 1978, said Boston.com.
PCBs were used in electrical transformers that leaked into waterways and soil, creating pollution in a number of areas nationwide, said Boston.com. Because of their oily consistency, PCBs were combined with caulking to make it more flexible and mixed with “industrial paints and adhesives,” said Boston.com.
Although the EPA said the danger to children in not yet known, it noted that “we’re concerned about the potential risks associated with exposure to these PCBs, and we’re recommending practical, common-sense steps to reduce this exposure as we improve our understanding of the science,’’ said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, quoted Boston.com.
PCBs, which include about some 200 compounds, said Boston.com, can cause damage to the human “immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems,” said the AP. PCBs can also lead to cancer if a build up in the body occurs over time, said the AP.
The EPA suggests removing caulk if PCB levels are found to be high, said the AP. Testing is recommended by the EPA, not required, said Boston.com; however, materials found to contain levels of about 50 parts per million must be removed.
Jackson noted that the chemicals remain in schools and buildings build before PCBs were banned in 1978, said the AP. The EPA has said it would conduct new research into the link between airborne PCBs and the chemical in caulk, and will also conduct testing in schools, said the AP. It seems that the link between the chemical in the air and in caulk is not clear, added the AP.
According to Boston.com, when caulking ages, it often breaks into particles and vapors that can contain PCBs. The particles can end up in a variety of places, such as on the ground, windowsills, and ventilation systems, added Boston.com. The EPA recommended the following, according to the AP and Boston.com:
- Clean air ducts
- Open windows to enhance ventilation; use exhaust fans
- Clean rooms to minimize dust; do not dry dust, use a wet or damp cloth
- Vacuum using appliances with high efficiency particulate air filtration systems; do not dry boom;
- Wash hands often and with soap and water, and always before eating and drinking; wash children’s toys often
Lawsuits are beginning to be reported and more are expected. According to the AP, a Bronx, New York mother sued New York City over PCBs in caulk at her daughter's public school. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month.
The EPA has set up a PCBs in caulk hot line that can be reached toll-free at 1-888-835-5372, and a Web site.