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More PCB Leaks in Upper West Side Schools Infuriate Parents

By Emily Frost | March 26, 2013 2:00pm | Updated on March 26, 2013 2:28pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — PCB leaked in another two Upper West Side schools in the past two months, education officials said — adding to a growing list of affected schools and concern among parents.

P.S. 242, the Young Diplomats Magnet Academy on West 120th Street, had leaks of the carcinogenic chemical polychlorinated biphenyl last month, according to the Department of Education.

P.S. 185, The Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School on West 112th Street, had a leak in early March, the DOE said.

"At 242, the ballast emitted an odor on Feb. 25," said Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE. "The damage was removed and parents were notified."

It is not clear when the notification happened. 

A source described the leak as causing "smoke and a really acrid smell" in a classroom.

P.S. 185 Principal Jane Murphy said the leak at her school happened in the nurse's office and the leaking bulb was removed immediately by the DOE. A letter from the department informing parents went home with students the next day.  

The incidents follow a leak at P.S. 87 in early December. The DOE took three months to notify parents.

Other schools affected by PCB leaks over the last few years include: P.S. 76 A. Phillip Randolph; P.S. 84 Lillian Weber; M.S. 247 Dual Language Middle School; P.S. 87 William Sherman; Future Leaders Institute Charter School; and P.S. 191 Amsterdam.

The recent incidents add to a brewing distrust in the district, particularly at P.S. 242. 

Parent Angela Jenkins has taken her second grade daughter out of school for the remainder of the year and is homeschooling her after the PCB leak convinced her the school was unsafe, she said.

"I don’t trust the DOE with my daughter. There’s so much lying and cover-up," said Jenkins, adding the school was evasive about the leak and its remediation plan. "I have to really ask my self, 'Do I want to send my daughter there?'"

P.S. 242 Principal Denise Gomez did not return request for comment. 

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal is working on a bill that would force the DOE to speed up the remediation timeline.

“Once again, lighting ballasts leak PCBs in schools and the Department of Education recklessly dithers...The DOE must stop making parents choose between their children’s health and their education. I renew my demand that the City remove all toxic PCB lighting ballasts from classrooms immediately,” Rosenthal said.

The DOE does not conduct air quality testing after a PCB leak, which is one way to ensure chemicals aren't leaching into the air, said District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul. The United Federation of Teachers, however, performed air quality testing at P.S. 242, Altschul said.

Air testing is "incredibly expensive and it requires a space be completely shut down," said Community Education Council member Michelle Ciulla Lipkin of testing. "It’s a very cumbersome process.

"It’s absurd that we’re not doing more air testing," she added, "but it’s a much more expensive proposition." 

As of March 19, the DOE has listed P.S. 185 as a school where "specific ballasts and/or fixtures with visible leaks have been removed; school is being scheduled for full T-12 lighting replacement," which means older model T-12 lights that could have PCBs will be replaced with newer, safer ones.

"I was told that because we had an active leak that it bumps us up to the top of the list. I haven’t received any identification of when that will be," said P.S. 185 Principal Murphy.

P.S. 242 has also been placed on the priority list for remediation, with work slated to begin this summer, Altschul said. 

"The DOE agrees that the summer is the proper time to address the PCB concerns," she said.

But parents and school advocates are concerned about whether that plan is feasible, given that there are currently 215 schools on the priority list.  

"We’re supposedly on a list. We’re supposed to be put first... Who’s to say by September that they’ll finish?" Jenkins said.

CEC 3 member Joe Fiordaliso said he and other members were not content to sit back. 

"The issue represents an imminent public health crisis to our children, our teachers and administrators," he said.