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City Wants 10 Years to Remove Toxic PCBs From Schools

By Leslie Albrecht | February 23, 2011 3:59pm | Updated on February 24, 2011 5:09am
A dust laced with dangerous PCBs was discovered at the Upper West Side's P.S. 199 in 2008.
A dust laced with dangerous PCBs was discovered at the Upper West Side's P.S. 199 in 2008.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Light fixtures that could be laced with toxic chemicals will be removed from public schools during the next 10 years, the city announced Wednesday.

The city said it would replace light fixtures at schools citywide, and make energy efficiency upgrades at 772 schools — improvements that are expected to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 200,000 metric tons per year, according to a statement from the Department of Education.

In 2008, testing revealed dangerous toxins known as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, inside a few city schools, including the Upper West Side's P.S. 199 on West 70th Street and West End Avenue.

Since then parents and lawmakers have waged a battle to get the city to test all schools for PCBs — which have been linked to cancer and respiratory problems — and to remove the sources of the chemicals from school buildings.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who has led the charge to test for PCBs in schools, accused the city of "stalling." Rosenthal and other lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday morning that would require city action on the PCB issue within three years.

"It's high time that the city acknowledged the problem, but our school children cannot wait 10 years," Rosenthal said in a statement. "The health and safety of our children is too precious, and that’s precisely why my bill calls for the city to replace all (light fixtures) within three to five years."

But schools Chancellor Cathie Black said in a statement that the 10-year timeline made sense.

"Given that both the EPA and the Department of Health have said there is no immediate health threat to students in these buildings, we believe this is the most responsible way to proceed," Black said.

The Department of Education said in October it wanted to get the results of a pilot testing program at P.S. 199 and four other schools, before it tested schools citywide — in part because it was expensive to treat PCB contamination.

The city has set aside $708 million to pay for the 10-year program of removing the light fixtures and other environmental upgrades.