Education Advocates Push for Remediation in 8 UWS Schools with Known PCBs

By Emily Frost on February 8, 2013 9:57am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — Upper West Side Community Board 7 unanimously backed a plan to get more information about PCB exposure in local schools  — and to speed up the timeline for removing all PCBs from the Upper West Side schools found to contain them.

PCBs, a banned carcinogenic chemical used in lighting fixtures until the late 1970s, have been found at eight Upper West Side schools, which are on the Department of Education's list of accelerated PCB removal.

The schools include PS 76 A. Phillip Randolph, P226M @P076M, PS 84 Lillian Weber, MS 247 Dual Language Middle School, PS 87 William Sherman, PS 242 The Young Diplomats Magnet Academy, Future Leaders Institute Charter School, and PS 191 Amsterdam.

The DOE has promised to remediate the PCB these schools within a year — putting them first in line in having all their light fixtures removed after identifying them as having active leaks or PCBs.

But critics worry that the timeline for the schools — which are among 359 schools and programs across the city that landed on the city's PCB removal priority list — may change, leaving students waiting.

Two bills proposed by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal got unanimous Community Board backing this week pushing for the Department of Education to be more transparent about their PCB remediation process, and pushing them to speed up the proposed 10 year process to just 2 years.

Rosenthal's bill calls for the DOE to assign each school a priority ranking on the remediation list so that parents and administrators have a better understanding of where their school falls in terms of the DOE's plans.

Without a numbered list, it is difficult to get a timeline for how soon the schools will be PCB-free, critics say.

The Department of Education has committed to removing all lighting fixtures that could contain PCBs, known as T-12 lighting ballasts, from a total of 655 schools within 10 years.

Michael Mirasola, of the School Construction Authority, which is responsible for public school buildings, defended his department's treatment of remediation in the district.

"We think we're doing a good job [with remediation]," Mirasola told parents at a recent Community Education Council meeting for District 3.

"Well we don't," retorted Noah Gotbaum, a CEC member. 

"We are so far ahead of every other governmental organization in this country. We are way ahead [on PCB remediation,]" Mirasola shot back. 

Mirasola said that the Upper West Side schools on the accelerated list were a top priority and that the construction authority was "working really diligently."

"We're not some nameless bureaucracy that doesn't give a damn about you," he said, adding that "There isn't any hard information that tells us what to do. We're inventing this as we go along." 

Mirasola said that since the remediation process is a major undertaking that has to be fit around a school's schedule, crews often have to wait until summer to accomplish it. 

"We have to do this when the schools are closed. It's not like going in and removing a light bulb. We evacuate the building. It takes time," said Mirasola.

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