By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents and officials are lauding the Environmental Protection Agency's move to inspect for PCBs inside public schools, two years after the toxins were first discovered.
The E.P.A. said this week it would begin inspecting light fixtures in schools in January to see if they're contaminated with PCBs — toxins that have been linked to cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and cognitive damage.
Eric Shuffler, a parent at P.S. 199 on West 70th Street near West End Avenue, said the EPA's announcement "validated" parents' concerns about PCBs.
The Department of Education said in October it wanted to wait to test schools citywide until after it learned the results of a pilot testing program at P.S. 199 and four other schools — in part because it's expensive to treat PCB contamination.
"People were frustrated that the DOE wouldn't do it and it's good to know that someone is watching the DOE's back and there's a higher level of accountability that parents can turn to when they feel they have to," Shuffler said.
State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal criticized the DOE in October for moving too slowly on the issue, and called on the EPA to step in.
On Wednesday Rosenthal praised the EPA's Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck for sending what she called a "strongly worded letter" to Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott that "charged the city with violating federal law by allowing continued presence of PCB-laden light ballasts in school buildings."
The toxins were discovered in 2008 in caulking in P.S. 199's windows. Further testing earlier this year revealed PCBs in light fixtures that had hung in classrooms for decades.
The caulking and light fixtures were removed from P.S. 199 and another school, but it's not known if the toxins are lurking in other school buildings.
"I'm shocked and appalled that the city thinks it knows more about PCBs than the nation’s top environmental law enforcement agency," Rosenthal said in a statement.
The DOE did not immediately return call for comment.
Enck's letter to the DOE questioned the department's assertion that cleaning up the PCBs could cost as much as $1 billion.
"We have no understanding of how this figure was arrived at," Enck wrote. "Retrofits carried out at other school districts in this region and elsewhere have been considerably less costly."