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DOE Apologizes for Keeping UWS Parents in Dark About PCBs Leak

By Emily Frost | March 8, 2013 9:35am

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Education has apologized to parents at P.S. 87 for waiting more than three months to notify them about a possible PCB leak in a classroom that went unfixed for weeks.

A light fixture containing the carcinogenic chemical malfunctioned on Dec. 7 in room 310 of the school, a K-5 public school on West 78th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, according to education officials, parents and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

But the school and the Education Department let the students back into the classroom three days later, and didn't get around to replacing the light until Dec. 28, officials said.

Parents were stunned to learn of the possible leak in a vague letter from the Education Department sent home with students Wednesday afternoon.

"We apologize for not notifying you sooner," Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm wrote.

Grimm explained in her letter that the leak caused a "burning odor," and forced administrators to evacuate the room.

The room was ventilated for three days and students returned on Dec. 10, she said, adding that students were allowed to return to the room because "no visible leaks were observed so the fixture remained in place."

The light fixture was replaced over winter recess on Dec. 28, Grimm said, but parents weren't told about it until Wednesday.

The delayed mea culpa angered parents and elected officials.

The parents' association is "deeply, deeply concerned for the health and safety of our children, teachers and staff," said co-presidents Katie Miller, Claire Abenante and Ann Binstock in a statement.

The parents' group wrote to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Thursday expressing its disappointment with the flow of information from the DOE: "It was with great surprise, frustration, and concern that we learned this week about an active PCB leak in one of our classroom light fixtures that occurred three months ago, in December."

The PA demanded to know when remediation at the school will occur and states in the letter that "because of the DOE’s failure to address these leaks in a timely fashion, we are concerned that the scope and design plans for remediation at P.S. 87 are not yet in place." 

There is evidence that PCBs have "adverse reproductive, developmental, and endocrine effects," according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rosenthal said the DOE is "required by city law to [report the PCB leakage] within seven days" and that parents learned by accident of the leaking light ballast, which she characterized as "malodorous and smoking." 

Rosenthal and parents have scheduled a press conference Friday "to publicly express our disappointment with the lack of timely notice to parents…and to insist that immediate steps are taken to protect our children from any potential harm from leaking fixtures."

Parents, meanwhile, hoped educators would treat them more like partners in all school matters.

"I'm just looking for the school to be honest with us about what is going on in all aspects," said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous. "We are all on the same team."