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Parents at P.S. 146 Concerned of students' exposure to PCBs

By Heather Holland | June 11, 2012 5:16pm | Updated on June 11, 2012 5:24pm
Parents at Brooklyn New School took photos of possible PCB leaks at the school and compared them to images of PCB leaks published on the DOE's website.
Parents at Brooklyn New School took photos of possible PCB leaks at the school and compared them to images of PCB leaks published on the DOE's website.
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Ilan Kayatsky

CARROLL GARDENS — Parents of students at Brooklyn New School are concerned that their children risk exposure to a harmful chemical and have rallied together with elected officials to get the Department of Education to remove hundreds of contaminated light fixtures at the school.

"Our children and our teachers — who are in these school buildings for long periods of time — simply should not have to wait 10 years to replace these contaminated fixtures," state Sen. Daniel Squadron said in a statement. "It's time for DOE to take action quickly for our students, our teachers, and our entire community.”

On Monday morning, parents were joined by Squadron, Rep. Nydia Velasquez and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz for a rally outside of the school, dedicated to pushing the DOE to expedite its 10-year plan to remove PCB from city school buildings.

In February 2011, the city announced its 10-year comprehensive plan to replace all lights containing PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — in city schools. In March, the DOE released a list of schools that are known to be contaminated, and Brooklyn New School, located at 610 Henry St., made the list as one of 700 schools to carry PCBs.

The school currently has hundreds of these light fixtures, and some of them are showing signs of leaking, parents said.

"For a moment, I was paralyzed," said Alexis Quy, a parent at the school, about her reaction to learning that PCBs exist in the school. "I have felt conflicted about sending my daughter — a cancer survivor — to school in this building. As a mother, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing for her.

"The DOE needs to change their timeline. Ten years is just too long.”

Concerned parents organized a walk-through of the school, and took photographs of light fixtures that showed signs of leaking.

A group of parents also started a petition to gain supporters, and so far, it has collected 231 signatures of parents and faculty at BNS. DOE officials, however, said that PCBs are not an immediate hazard to students.

"Our plan to replace light fixtures in these buildings is unprecedented compared to other cities, and PCBs are a nationwide issue," Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said in a written statement. "While some people think we should spend more and do this faster, we continue to believe this is an aggressive, environmentally responsible plan that will cause minimum disruption to student learning and generate significant energy savings for the city and taxpayers in the long run."

PCBs are vapors that, if leaked, can manifest as either oily liquids or solids that are clear to light yellow in color, and are found in fluorescent lights that were made at least 35 years ago, before PCBs were outlawed.

Exposure to large amounts of PCBs can contribute to liver damage, and are known to cause certain skin conditions such as acne and rashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PCBs also caused cancer in lab animals, according to the CDC.

"There aren’t a lot of studies about what low-level exposures means to human health,” said Maida Galvez, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Our general stance on the issue is that we’re not sure what the clinical relevance of low-level exposures is, but since we do know so much already, we should try to reduce faculty, staff and student exposures as quickly, safely and feasibly as possible. That is, faster than the 10-year timeline."