By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
CARROLL GARDENS — Parents at two Carroll Gardens schools have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene in their struggle to remove hundreds of PCB-contaminated lighting fixtures from their Carroll Gardens school building.
Despite letters, a petition and photos of leaking fixtures at the P.S. 146 Brooklyn New School and M.S. 448 Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies at 610 Henry St., the city’s Department of Education (DOE) remains unresponsive, advocates said.
Parents say that because the building contains both an elementary school and a middle school, children may be there a decade before the toxic fixtures are removed.
“Since finding out that BNS contains hundreds of T-12 fluorescent light fixtures made with PCBs, I have felt conflicted about sending my daughter — a cancer survivor — to school in this building,” said BNS parent Alexis Quy in a statement on Monday. “With the DOE’s proposed 10-year timeline for remediation, she could end up being exposed to PCBs during school hours for 13 years.”
"We deal with all confirmed leaks at individual fixtures within 48 hours," contends DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg. "We conduct a detailed review of all reported leaks to determine the source." She said that some of the sources "may not be the ballast but are water leaks."
Feinberg said the city is in the second year of the 10 year plan. "In February 2011, the city announced its Comprehensive Plan to remove and replace all lighting fixtures within ten years in the 700 school buildings that currently have lighting fixtures with PCB ballasts. Our plan to replace light fixtures in these buildings is unprecedented compared to other cities, and PCBs are a nationwide issue."
Lighting ballasts and caulking installed between 1950 and 1978 contain the now-banned substance, which has been linked to cancer, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive and immune disorders. The effects of PCBs on the reproductive health of girls and female teachers is especially troubling, experts say, because the chemicals accumulate over time and can stay in the body for decades.
According to the New York City School Construction Authority the majority of the city’s schools — and 70 percent of schools in Brooklyn — contain PCBs.
A slew of representatives and advocates — including Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Senator Daniel Squadron, Margaret Kelley from the Office of Borough President Marty Markowitz, District Leader Jo Anne Simon, New York Communities for Change and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) — have joined with the parents to demand action.
“Our children and our teachers — who are in these school buildings for long periods of time — simply should not have to wait ten years to replace these contaminated fixtures,” said Senator Daniel Squadron in a statement.
“Parents and guardians do everything humanly possible to protect their kids from hazardous materials in their own homes, yet essentially they are being forced to send students off to school each day fully knowing their classrooms aren’t as safe as they should be,” Borough President Marty Markowitz said.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest has been working with parents to rid schools of PCBs for several years.
“The DOE’s continuing refusal to remove all PCB lights from school buildings and ensure that our children go to school in a safe environment is completely unacceptable, and, in addition, the visual inspection protocol they’ve set up for custodians is completely inadequate,” Gigi Gazon, Environmental Justice Organizer for NYLPI, said in a statement.
“Despite the fact that the EPA has stated that leaks are prevalent in these antiquated, obsolete fixtures, the DOE plans to take nine years to replace them. This is far too long to subject kids and school employees to PCB exposure,” she added.
The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has advised in the past that “there is no immediate health concern and health effects from long term exposure to the air in school buildings are unlikely to occur at the PCB levels seen in the NYC schools.”
In the letter that DOE says was sent out to the two schools in February, DOE quoted a published interview with doctors from Mount Sinai that reads in part: “PCBs at the levels found in most school in New York City today will not make any child or any teach acutely ill.”
DOE ignores the rest of the article, however, which warns about the dangers of PCBs: “Well-conducted, highly credible epidemiological studies demonstrate that babies born to mothers with elevated levels of PCBs in their bodies have diminished intelligence, as measured by decreased I.Q. scores. These effects on the fetal brain appear to be permanent and irreversible.”
More about PCBs at P.S. 146 Brooklyn New School and M.S. 448 Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies at http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/carroll-gardens-parents-charge-city-giving-them-runaround-over-pcbs.