PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, have turned up in three more New York City schools. To date, spot checks of New York City schools by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have turned up PCBs leaking from light ballasts in all five New York City school buildings tested so far, and all of the tests have confirmed leakage of PCBs above the federal limit of 50 parts per million.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the toxic substances turned up most recently in a Manhattan building that houses three schools – P.S. 206, P.S. 37 and P.S. 112. The building is located at 508 East 120 St.
A Department of Education spokesperson told the Journal that school officials took “corrective action during the same weekend as the EPA inspection” by removing the part of light fixtures found to be leaking PCBs, known as the ballast. School custodians have also been asked to do a visual inspection of all light fixtures in their school buildings.
But the EPA is pushing for a broader solution to the problem of PCBs in New York City schools, and wants the city to begin removing all the fixtures that contain PCBs, not just those where leakage has been confirmed. City officials argue that the toxic chemicals pose no immediate threat to students or school staff. According to the Department of Education, 1,120 schools use the light fixtures linked to PCBs, the Journal said.
PCBs 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.
The EPA believes many schools built in the U.S. before 1979 have light ballasts containing PCBs. In addition to New York, 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.