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Parents, groups call for PCB remidation in schools

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After the revelations about TCE contamination at P.S. 51’s previous building, many are calling on the Department of Education to release data about and immediately remediate for what they believe is much more widespread PCB contamination.

In a rally on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday, September 7, elected officials and advocacy groups New York City Communities for Change and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest called on the DOE to release information to parents about schools that may contain PCBs, a toxic chemical found in light ballasts and caulking placed in school buildings between 1954 and 1978.

NYLPI believes that there are approximately 1200 schools citywide that could contaminated with PCBs, and has released a list of the schools that they believe that could be affected.

“As our children go back to school, we must ensure their complete health and safety,” said Congressman Jose Serrano. “Parents must be assured that their children’s learning takes place in a safe environment. To that end, there can be no delay or cost savings in cleaning out all sources of PCBs, both in lighting fixtures and in caulk.”

The protest comes in the wake of controversy surrounding moving P.S. 51 from 3200 Jerome Avenue to 695 E. 182 Street because of TCE contamination. The DOE notified parents about the sacrificed air quality approximately six months after initial testing showed TCE contamination at P.S. 51, and later agreed to expedite TCE testing at 31 schools sites leased by the city.

The litigation regarding PCBs has the City putting forth a ten-year remediation plan removing PCBs from school buildings, while the NYLPI would like to see this happen in two years, said NYLPI lawyer Christina Giorgio.

“It is time for the city to stop dragging its feet, especially when it comes to the health and safety of students and staffs hang in the balance,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “PCBs are dangerous chemicals with considerable health effects, and parents and school employees have an right to know what levels of contamination either they or their children face simply by showing up to school every day.”

According to the NYLPI, among the schools confirmed to contain contaminated PCB light fixtures are P.S./M.S. 31 at 250 E. 156th Street with 2,581 fixtures; P.S. 42 at 1537 Washington Avenue with 875; P.S. 49 at 383 E. 139 Street with 1,086; J.H.S. 151 at 250 E. 156th St. with 2,581; P.S. 153 at 650 Baychester Avenue with 2,057; I.S. 181 at 800 Baychester Avenue with 2,486; P.S. 186 at 750 Jennings Street with 1,237; P. 12 at 2555 Tratman Avenue with 678; and Samuel Gompers at 455 Southern Boulevard with 1,844 PCB light fixtures.

The DOE defended its ten-year remediation plan as causing the least disruption to learning and the making the most out of taxpayer money. “PCBs are in no way unique to New York City and frankly, it’s inappropriate that politicians are attempting to scare parents with shoddy information gained by people trespassing into schools and doing unscientific tests,” said DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz. “In the absence of any suitable federal plan to address PCBs in buildings nationwide, NYC has embarked on an unprecedented effort, devoting nearly $800 million in city resources toward addressing PCBs in our public schools by replacing old light fixtures.”

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