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Activists Urge EPA to Make Spot Inspections at PCB Contaminated Schools

Parents at Brooklyn New School took photos of possible PCB leaks at the school and compared them to PCB samples on the Department of Education's website.
Parents at Brooklyn New School took photos of possible PCB leaks at the school and compared them to PCB samples on the Department of Education's website.
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Ilan Kayatsky

CARROLL GARDENS — The New York Lawyers for Public Interest, New York Communities for Change, community organizations and concerned parents issued a letter today urging the Environmental Protection Agency to reinstitute its spot inspection program to identify PCB-contaminated light fixtures in city schools.

Parents of children in schools that were identified by the Department of Education to have PCB-contaminated light fixtures said that the DOE has been shirking its responsibility to expedite PCB removal.

Last year, the EPA performed unannounced spot inspections of nine city schools and found that 100 percent of the schools had light fixtures leaking PCBs.

Since then, the DOE initiated a visual inspection program to identify schools with PCB leaks.

Because the ballasts of light fixtures are covered by a metal plate, leaks cannot be seen when they first happen, said Christina Giorgio, staff attorney at NYLPI. The leaks are profuse by the time the stains are actually visible, Giorgio said.

"During the spot inspection, the EPA took the lights apart and found them to be leaking," Giorgio said. "That’s how the lights should be inspected. The DOE is not taking the lights apart. They’re just looking up at the lights.

"The DOE is telling parents, 'Yes, your child is going to a school contaminated with PCBs, but we’re not going to get around to removing them for another nine years.' We are asking the EPA to reinstitute their spot inspection program to give parents further information that they can use to demand immediate action.”

Last year, the DOE found that 783 schools in the city had light fixtures that are contaminated with the toxic chemical. Since then, the DOE has initiated a 10-year plan to remove thousands of PCB light fixtures from city schools.

Despite the fact that parents have presented evidence of PCB leaks in schools, the DOE has prioritized only 413 of those schools for removal, which means the rest of the schools could wait for years before the contaminated fixtures are taken out.

The Brooklyn New School, P.S. 146, in Carroll Gardens is one school that had light fixtures that showed signs of leaking. When a parent presented photos of the leaks to Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a District 15 Community Education Council meeting last month, the chancellor assured the parent that PCB removal would be expedited at the school.

Still, parents have said that the DOE's visual inspection program is not enough to identify leaks at their children’s schools, and that the 10-year plan to remove the contaminated lights is just too long. They are hoping the EPA will take the reins and make inspections of schools to identify sure signs of leaking.

"We have a lot of support on this issue," Giorgio said. "We’re hopeful that the EPA will be responsive to our request."