Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NY City Council Hearing on PCBs

An emergency information gathering hearing by the New York City Council was held today to discuss PCBs in New York City schools. We'll have to wait for the full results but here are a couple of resulting news articles:

Staten Island Advance


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Kruger Introduces Bill To Mandate PCB Testing in City Schools

State Senator Kruger of Brooklyn is calling for testing of all suspect schools in New York City:

"Kruger Introduces Bill To Mandate PCB Testing in City Schools"

Here's an excerpt:

“They test for everything else — math and reading, regular assessment tests, and every other academic area big and small,” he said. “But when it comes to the real high-stakes testing — testing for the sake of health — they do nothing.”"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

AFT video and report highlight our crumbling schools

Check out this video and also the report and more information about our crumbling schools on AFT's web site. I warn you, you will be surprised at how bad things are in our country's schools. I was.

Harlem teacher - "We are teaching in a toxic environment"

Here's an article that came out today by a teacher at an East Harlem elementary school:

"Health hazard in a Harlem school"

This school's caulk was found to have PCBs of 5,300 ppm, more than 100 times the acceptable limit, yet DOE seems to be downplaying the seriousness of the matter. Here's an excerpt:

The Daily News article cites studies indicating that exposure to PCBs can "inhibit the growth of brain cells" in children and has been linked to "anti-social behavior, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-type symptoms."

Probably not a good idea to leave the stuff lying around in an elementary school, right?

Well, not according to the NYC Department of Education (DOE). After learning about the Daily News findings, the DOE conducted its own investigation and found that the PCBs had not become airborne (except in one of the schools named in the report--not ours).

The DOE maintains that the caulk isn't hazardous as long as it's left "undisturbed." However, according to a fact sheet from our union, the United Federation of Teachers, on government environmental regulations, "Materials containing 50 parts per million (ppm) or more of PCBs must be disposed of as a hazardous material." The Daily News reported that our school's caulk has PCBs of 5,300 ppm--more than 100 times the acceptable limit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

2006 Study - Soil Contamination from PCB-Containing Buildings

Here's an interesting study that was done in 2006 about the amount of PCBs found in soil surrounding buildings that had PCB contaminated caulk.

"Soil Contamination from PCB-Containing Buildings"

Here's a pretty interesting excerpt: Our findings suggest that the most likely cause of soil contamination found around these PCB-containing buildings is natural weathering.

So basically weather causes PCBs to go into the soil from caulk. Which I take to mean that any building that has PCB contaminated caulk on the outside of the building will have significant levels of PCBs in the soil as well just due to weather. This is not good for schools since kids play outside in the contaminated soil further increasing their exposure to PCBs.

Daily News - Bronx officials push for PCB check

Looks like our elected officials are starting to take some initial steps to address the issue of PCBs in schools.

"Bronx officials push for PCB check"

It is hard to understand why the DOE is not taking this issue more seriously:

...the Department of Education has not acknowledged that the illegal contamination is a problem...

The DOE has so far said it has no plans to test for PCBs at the more than 250 other city schools built between 1960 and 1977, despite the city's own air and dust testing turning up elevated PCB levels at schools where The News found contaminated caulk.

This is a national issue that needs a national solution so it is good to see that members of Congress are starting to look at legislation that will address this issue across the country:

On a national level, Bronx Reps.
Joe Crowley (D-East Bronx, Queens) and José Serrano (D-South Bronx) are taking the lead on legislation to find and remove all PCB caulking from schools, hospitals and public housing across the country.

Let's hope these efforts continue to gain support to really have a positive impact.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NYTimes article from 2005 about PCBs found in Westchester School

Interesting article from July 2005 about a school in Yorktown Heights in Westchester County, New York that, because of a parent who took it upon himself to get the school caulking tested, ensured that the PCB contaminated areas were cleaned up.

"Tainted Soil to Be Removed Next to Westchester School - New York Times"

The last 2 paragraphs are not very encouraging:

Little is being done at the state level to address the issue. The State Education Department has notified schools of the findings in Dr. Herrick's study through a newsletter. Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli, the chairman of the Assembly's Committee on Environmental Conservation, said he was considering sponsoring legislation that would finance a pilot program to test for contaminated caulk in schools and perhaps other buildings.

But environmental groups expect that advancing such legislation will be difficult. "What schools have a tendency to do is have a 'don't ask, don't tell' approach - they're afraid if you find something, then you'll have to do something about it," said Kathleen Curtis, executive director of the Citizens' Environmental Coalition, an Albany-based advocacy group. "School districts are tight on money. There's been a tremendous amount of difficulty getting a bill passed to test for lead in school water fountains."

California High School PCB cleanup

A high school in California recently started a PCB cleanup project after PCBs were found in the soil around the school. More proof that this is an issue that schools across the country are having to cope with. San Mateo Daily News

PCBs are a national issue!!

If you need any proof that PCBs are not just a New York or northeast issue, check out this article about a proposed toxic waste landfill in Illinois. "Obama, Durbin concerned about chemical waste at Clinton landfill". This is truly a national issue that needs to have a national solution for removing PCBs from society.

Friday, April 18, 2008

PCB history is not pretty

Here is the infamous history of PCBs from their early discovery in 1865 all the way up to this century. It details how harmful these toxins have been and the slowness to react to by industry to clean up and address the very serious health issues that the toxins created.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cleaning schools of PCBs

One of the main issues that I have heard is how does a school that has been found to have PCBs in the dust keep itself clean in a way that will ensure the PCB contaminated dust is minimized on an ongoing basis. NY city officials have said that no special chemicals or materials are needed only soap and water to wet wipe up the dust and a vacuum cleaner with a proper filter since sweeping only moves the dust around and kicks it up into the air creating a more hazardous environment. Well, according to the NYC Department Of Education's general facilities cleaning plan, sweeping is the primary way to clean up floors and not by using vacuums. I think someone needs to take a closer look at this and make some changes.


According to the NY State Education Department, "the U.S. EPA regulates the disposal of caulk, as well as soil and other materials contaminated with PCBs from caulk, if the concentration of PCBs exceeds 50 ppm." So basically if NY city officials test the caulk in city schools and find that the concentration of PCBs exceeds 50 ppm then by law the caulk must be removed and properly disposed of. Interesting to note that I have not seen any city agency (i.e. Departments of Education, Health, etc.) or officials from the Mayor's office call for testing of PCB levels in the caulk. Some other elected officials have called for this but the agencies charged with safeguarding the educational environment of our children have not. I guess 'sweeping' it under the rug is less costly than removing the source of the PCBs from our schools.

Times Ledger article on PCBs

Another local newspaper brings this issue of PCBs in schools to the public.

United Federation of Teachers speaks out on PCBs

Here's a statement by UFT President Randi Weingarten on the 'better safe than sorry' approach the UFT is adopting on PCBs.

NY Daily News - School Bigs Talk ABCs of PCBs

And yet another article by the NY Daily News on the issue of PCBs in NYC schools. This paper is definitely on top of this issue more so than any other news outlets.

Queens Courier on PCBs

Local Queens newspaper on reports of PCBs in NYC schools.

Talk Bronx on PCBs in NYC schools

Local online Bronx information source, Talk Bronx, highlights issue of PCBs in NYC schools.

WABC7 TV on the PCB NYC schools findings

Here's a local TV report on the findings of PCBs in NYC schools.

NY Daily News - Outcry grows for PCB testing

Here is another New York Daily News article. This one is highlighting schools in Brooklyn, the borough with the most schools constructed between 1960 and 1977 when PCBs were banned.

NYC Schools PCB Sampling Reports

Here is a site that has the full data from the PCB sampling taken in various New York City schools.

Letter from New York City Health Commissioner on PCBs in schools

This is a letter that the New York City health commissioner wrote to the New York Daily News in response to their article on the issue of PCBs in schools. It irks me and many other parents, teachers and concerned citizens that city officials who new that these buildings were built back in the 1960s and 70s using PCB contaminated materials only now, in response to the news media breaking the story, are starting to publicly address this issue.