Parents Rally After PCB Lights Rupture in Staten Island School

By Nicholas Rizzi on January 20, 2013 8:45am 

 Peter Whalen, 6, a third-grader at P.S. 50 in Oakwood, said that he's had headches and felt nausea since a PCB light ruptured over him in his classroom.
Peter Whalen, 6, a third-grader at P.S. 50 in Oakwood, said that he's had headches and felt nausea since a PCB light ruptured over him in his classroom.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

OAKWOOD — Parents of children at P.S. 50, in Oakwood, rallied outside the school Friday to demand the city replace the PCB light fixtures in the school after light fixtures ruptured in two classrooms in January.

Peter Whalen, 6, a third-grader at the school, said that on Monday, the lights went out in his classroom and when he looked at the light fixture above him he saw smoke.

“I looked up [and] it popped and then started sizzling,” he said. “As it was sizzling it was smoking, white smoke.”

Peter said that another light caught on fire too, and the one he was sitting under came down right above his head.

Parents complained that they were never initially notified by the school of the Jan. 14 incident, and only found out about it when their kids came home from school talking about it. Parents said they were upset that the kids were going to go in the same room the next day.

“We don't want out kids going back in that classroom,” said Paul Whalen, Peter’s father.

After getting dismissive answers from the school’s administration, Paul Whalen contacted New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which already has a 2011 lawsuit pending against the Department of Education about speeding up the removal of PCB lights in schools.

Christina Giorgio, staff attorney with the NYLPI working on the case, said that the DOE is required to tell parents immediately about any incidents, and said the DOE should work on replacing all PCB lights in schools before more situations like this happen again.

“It is a very clear example of the Department of Education acting irresponsibly,” Giorgio said.

“The Department of Education knows full well that these lights are leaking and many of them are going to rupture like this," she said. "This is not the end of the situation. This is the start of what's going to be a snowballing of recurring events like this in these schools.”

The school also had a similar PCB light rupture in a separate classroom on Jan. 7 — which Giorgio said parents were not notified about until the letter — and Whalen said his son complained of a noxious smell in his classroom since last week.

 In a January 17, 2013 letter to the school, DOE officials assure parents that PCB light fixtures will be replaced by July, 2013.
In a January 17, 2013 letter to the school, DOE officials assure parents that PCB light fixtures will be replaced by July, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Courtesy of Whalen family

Instead of leaving and finding a new classroom, the teachers just told the students to bundle up as they opened the windows to air out the classroom, Whalen said.

“They were left in the room with the windows open,” Paul Whalen said. “They weren't supposed to be left in the room. When they smell it, they're supposed to leave the room.”

The school did issue a letter to parents on Jan. 17, which admits to two different PCB light failures over two weeks. The letter claims the school followed proper protocols in replacing the fixtures and airing out the classrooms.

A spokeswoman for the DOE said that they sent out letters to parents detailing what happened in the classrooms, and they are aiming to replace the light fixtures in the summer.

Leaking PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, was previously reported at I.S 204 Long Island City and P.S. 41 in Staten Island in September.

PCB exposure has been linked to severe health problems, including cancer.

The DOE spokeswoman said she has not received reports of increased illness in the school, but Paul Whalen said seven other parents have told him their children had headaches, nausea and other symptoms.

He said his son has had headaches since last week, and complained of blurred vision yesterday.

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