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The ABCs of PCBs in Schools

The ABCs of PCBs in Schools
It seems that school districts are beginning to wake up to the reality that PCB hazards are present in many schools built or renovated in the 60’s and 70’s. This is especially the case in New York City, where the Bloomberg Administration is caving to federal pressure by dedicating $708 million to a ten year plan to rid the city’s schools of PCBs.

PCBs are most often present in window adhesives and light fixture ballasts. PCB-containing caulk can contaminate surrounding surfaces if it is removed and discarded improperly. Any repair that will disturb old caulk (e.g. removing or replacing a window) should be done by trained workers. PCB-containing lighting ballasts that are damaged can leak onto surrounding surfaces or produce vapors in the air.

The potential for health effects from PCBs, as with other chemicals, depend on how much, how often, and how long someone is exposed. Studies have shown behavioral and developmental problems among children whose mothers were exposed to large amounts of PCBs. Evidence is limited on PCBs and cancer in humans, but PCBs are classified as probable human carcinogens. Some studies of workers suggest that high-level exposure increases the risk of liver cancer. PCBs have been found to cause cancer and other health effects in laboratory animals. Scientists have looked at PCB exposure as a risk factor for developing disorders of the liver, thyroid, reproductive and immune systems.

In early 2010 the NYC Education Department accepted a Content Agreement with the US EPA to implement a DOE proposed “Remedial Investigation Work Plan”. The Board has already addressed leaking ballasts and deteriorated caulk in numerous schools and will begin to eliminate light ballasts and caulks in conjunction with energy retrofits over the next decade. Be that as it may, the ten year time frame doesn’t sit well with both EPA and the City Council, who have argued that the work should be completed in a shorter, five year period.

Contractors and those who make contact with or remediate PCBs must be trained under EPA’s Hazardous Waste Operations (HazWoper) standard, which involves hazardous materials (HazMat) General Site Worker 40 hour certification training. EEA has scheduled additional “40 hr HazMat” sessions to keep up with demand among contractors working in the City schools.