PCB inspections at New York City schools are being suspended today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in wake of the city’s announcement that it has a plan to remove light ballasts tainted with the toxic chemicals from buildings. New York City and the EPA had previously been at odds over what to do about PCBs, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls.
The EPA believes many light ballasts installed in schools across the country prior to 1979 are contaminated with PCBs. In January, the agency embarked on a pilot testing program to determine the extent of PCBs in New York City schools. The chemicals have turned up in light ballasts in every building the EPA has tested.
The EPA has been pushing New York City to address the PCB contamination problem, but the cost – initially estimated at $1 billion -caused the city to resist. But last week, the city finally announced a $708 million, 10 year plan to remove PCB-tainted light ballasts from 772 school buildings in the city.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the city’s plan appears to have satisfied the EPA. A spokesperson for the agency said it doesn’t have any more inspections planned in the near future, but “we always reserve our rights to inspect.”
PCBs are known carcinogens, and have been linked to increased blood pressure and negative affects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. Most people have low levels of PCBs in their bodies, mostly from exposure through foods like fish and dairy products but also from air, indoor dust and outside soils.
Though banned in 1979, PCBs were regularly used in construction materials and electrical products before the phase-out. As a result, the toxins can still be found in building – including schools – used today. In addition to New York, PCBs have also been detected in school districts in Massachusetts, North Dakota and Oregon.