The official response to the PCB contamination turning up in a growing number of New York City schools has been, in the eyes of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), inadequate, leading the agency to take matters into its own hands.
Now, says The Associated Press (AP), yet another New York City school has been found to dangerous levels of PCBs leaking from aging light fixtures. P.S. 68 in the Bronx is the latest in a string of schools found to have PCB contamination.
The agency inspected 11 rooms at P.S. 68 on January 29 and found PCB levels there were above regulatory limits in nine rooms tested, said the AP. This is the fourth New York City school the EPA has tested; every school has tested with higher-than-mandated PCB levels, the AP said. Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the City Department of Education said that it replaced the ballasts, noted the AP.
PCBs “polychlorinated biphenyls” are man-made chemicals that can still be found in many products and materials produced before a PCB ban was instituted in 1979. The toxic substances are known carcinogens, and other PCB Health Problems include 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.
In addition to PCBs in Light Fixtures, PCBs in New York City Schools have turned up in tiles and caulking in these older buildings.
The EPA believes many schools built in the U.S. before 1979 have light ballasts containing PCBs. A pilot testing program conducted by the EPA revealed levels of PCB contamination in some New York City schools that exceed federal health guidelines. According to The New York Times, the EPA was so concerned that it told the Bloomberg Administration that further tests could not wait until summer 2011 and began its own spot inspections last month.
While parents are understandably concerned, the Times said the Bloomberg administration has disputed the urgency of replacing all of the fluorescent lighting, estimating it would cost about $1 billion; it is still in negotiations with the EPA over the matter. Adding to confusing is the mixed message parents are receiving: Officials say the PCBs pose no immediate health risks, while at the same time, they caution that long-term exposure increases risks.
According to the Times, the EPA testing of light fixtures (but not samples of indoor air) have revealed PCB levels above federal regulatory limits in three other buildings tested: P.S. 11 in Brooklyn; P.S. 53 on Staten Island, and a building housing both P.S. 13 and P.S. 358 in Brooklyn. PCBs were found at P.S. 36 after a teacher’s discovery of a brown stain under a light fixture prompted the city to conduct tests there. Testing financed by two public interest groups also found high levels of PCBs in caulk at P.S. 56 in Brooklyn, the Times said.
According to the Times, the toxic chemicals have also been detected in school districts in Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Oregon. But, so far, the EPA has conducted spot inspections only in New York, the country’s largest school system.