Monday, November 16, 2009


See the attached chart

The chart identifies NYC schools where the DOE found window caulk containing more than 50 parts per million (ppm) PCBs. PCBs are highly toxic compounds that were banned years ago but not removed from all sources, such as the caulking material surrounding windows and doors in some buildings. PCBs spontaneously enter the air and can be ingested through breathing. They pose special health and developmental risks to children.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs at levels greater than 50 ppm “present an unreasonable risk of injury to health.” EPA also states that caulk containing more than 50 ppm PCBs “must be removed.” Many schools around NYC nevertheless continue to contain caulk that is contaminated, sometimes very severely, as seen in the chart.

The chart is not the result of a comprehensive survey of NYC schools. In other words, the fact that a school is absent from the chart does not mean it does not contain contaminated caulk. What the chart shows instead are results of some of the PCB tests that the DOE conducted before doing routine window renovation work in the period from April 2008 to September 2009. The caulk that was tested was slated to be removed and was in fact removed. However, the DOE only tested those windows subject to renovation in each school and it is highly likely that other windows and doors at these schools contain the same contaminated caulk.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) obtained the information in this chart through a Freedom of Information Law request. NYLPI is a non-profit civil rights organization that does environmental justice work throughout NYC. Together with concerned Bronx parents, we have formed a coalition called the Coalition for PCB-Free Schools. Our goal is to broaden the coalition into a city-wide group that can prevail upon the DOE to provide safe, PCB-free learning environments for all NYC children.

For more information, please contact Senior Staff Attorney Miranda Massie by email at or by phone at 212/244-4664.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

City admits 19 schools toxic; no cleanup planned

City admits 19 schools toxic; no cleanup planned

This is ridiculous! The NYC Dept of Ed readily admits that these toxins are in our children's schools at levels well above federal limits. We have children and teachers going to schools full of toxic waste. Yet the DOE is doing nothing to remove the source of these toxins and is effectively thumbing its nose at federal regulations which dictate that the toxic waste be removed. Sure we are all strapped for money but the health of our children is well worth the cost to clean up our schools.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Toxic fight over schools in Bronx

Toxic fight over schools in Bronx

The legal battle over PCBs in New York City schools heats up with "more than a dozen parents and one prominent organization" signing on or expressing interest in joining a notice of intent to sue the city for not addressing the PSB problem in our children's schools.

Also, the "New York Lawyers for the Public Interest will host an informational meeting for parents at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 24, at the United Methodist Church in Co-op City, 2350 Palmer Ave., at Hutchinson River Parkway E." I encourage everyone who cares about the well being of our children to attend.

Researchers show how PCBs may alter in utero, neonatal brain development

Researchers show how PCBs may alter in utero, neonatal brain development

As if we needed any more scientific data to prove how bad PCBs are for our youth, this report comes out detailing how PCBs alter the development of brain cells. A quote from one of the researchers:

"With these studies we have now shown - from the whole animal level to the molecular level - how PCBs alter the development and excitability of brain cells. And that could explain why PCBs are associated with higher rates of neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders," said Pessah, who is also a researcher with the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute.

The science is clear - PCBs are bad for all people but especially for children.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

EPA Hosts PCB Challenge Conference

04/02/2009: Conference to Raise Awareness of PCB Disclosure and Disposal

The EPA is hosting a conference in Philadelphia to discuss "the hazards of PCBs and failing PCB equipment; how firms may qualify for penalty mitigation; the benefits of voluntary disclosure; management and proper disposal methods; sustainability beyond PCBs; and partnering with EPA. EPA staff will be available for one-on-one sessions to assist participants in identifying opportunities for PCB reduction or elimination."

I think the NYC Dept of Ed should attend. They might get some useful info to help them clean up our schools.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Associated Press: EPA reports uptick in some toxic chemicals in 2007

The Associated Press: EPA reports uptick in some toxic chemicals in 2007

I missed this report when it first came out. While overall toxins are down, PCBs are up 40 percent. Yes, 40 percent, even though they were banned in the 1970s. The EPA claims the jump is probably due to disposal of old equipment or clean up at industrial sites.

I thought there were strict guidelines for how to clean up and dispose of these toxins. Either they are not being followed, or they do not work to keep PCBs from getting into the environment. Either way, the system is broken and must be fixed.

Legislation: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and School Modernization

The stimulus bill appropriates funds for modernizing and renovating public school buildings. This is something that the NYC DoE should look into to help pay for cleaning up PCBs in our schools. We can not let money trump the health of our children.

EPA Names Priority Schools for Monitoring Toxic Outdoor Air Pollution

While none of the schools that the Daily News originally found to be contaminated with PCBs is on this list, this is an indication that the new EPA is moving in the right direction to protect out children.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lawsuit press release

Below is the full text of the press release announcing the lawsuit.

Bronx Mother to sue over toxic caulk in NYC schools
Formal notice charges Department of Education, School Construction Authority, and Environmental Protection Agency with dangerous inaction on hazardous PCBs

New York, NY, March 26, 2009 – Today at 5:30 p.m. at the headquarters of the NYC Department of Education (DOE) (52 Chambers Street), Naomi Gonzalez, a teacher’s aide, and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) will announce the filing of a formal notice of intent to sue the DOE and the School Construction Authority (SCA). Ms. Gonzalez’s children Devin (11) and Emelina (6) and other NYC parents will also attend.

The suit will allege that PS 178, the school attended by Devin and Emelina, contains window caulking that is severely contaminated with poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in violation of federal law. The DOE and SCA have misrepresented the risks associated with toxic caulk and to date they and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have neglected to take action to rid the school of PCBs, forcing Ms. Gonzalez to file the notice of intent to sue.

“The Department of Education and the School Construction Authority have abdicated their responsibility to the parents and children of this city to provide a safe learning environment and to be clear and candid about the serious risks posed by PCB-contaminated caulk,” said Miranda Massie, senior staff attorney for the Environmental Justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We hope that with the new Administration and this notice, the EPA will end its dangerous passivity on this issue. If not, we will bring suit to enforce the law ourselves.”

A state-certified laboratory found that a caulk sample from PS 178 contained over 100,000 parts per million (ppm) PCBs – more than 2,000 times the 50 ppm limit above which the EPA has determined that PCBs categorically “present an unreasonable risk of injury to health within the United States.” A pending state bill would mandate PCB testing in NYC schools, and New York City parents and the City Council have called on the DOE and SCA to test the caulk in window frames, door frames and expansion joints of potentially contaminated city schools and to remove contaminated caulk. However, no action has been taken by either agency.

“This is about the health of my children, our children. My kids go to school every day in a building that could make it harder for them to learn and make them sick. I’m furious that the DOE knows this and has done nothing. I shouldn’t be afraid to send my children to school,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who lives with Devin, Emelina, and her husband in Co-op City.

“It is outrageous that schools in New York have not taken necessary precautions to prevent student exposure to PCBs,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF- Manhattan). "Despite repeated requests for comprehensive testing, DOE and DHMH have refused to address this issue at all potential contamination sites. My legislation will require school districts to investigate and report on the status of PCBs in schools constructed or renovated prior to 1977. It will also require schools to follow published protocols for addressing PCBs during school renovations. It is my sincere hope that this issue can be resolved quickly in order to protect children from further exposure to these dangerous toxins.”

PCBs are severely poisonous. They threaten the integrity of major body systems, including the immune system, the endocrine system, and the neurological system, and they are considered a probable human carcinogen. PCBs are developmental toxins that disproportionately affect children. PCBs in caulk volatilize into air and migrate into soil, brick, and mortar, exposing children and employees to significant health risks.

PCBs were banned in 1978 by Congress in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law is to be enforced by the EPA, which promulgated regulations for the management and disposal of PCBs. .

Under the Bloomberg Administration there has been a centralization of power for making and implementing education policy. In 2002, changes in the school governance law gave the Mayor the authority to appoint all three Trustees of the SCA, including the School's Chancellor who serves as the SCA Chair, and the management of the Department of Education's Capital Program was consolidated under one agency, the SCA. Opponents of Mayoral Control allege that the consolidation of power has frozen out independent neighborhood voices like Naomi Gonzalez’s and stymied efforts of parents to provide feedback in their children’s school environment forcing them into the court system.

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) is a nonprofit civil rights law firm that works with communities to advocate for social justice through community organizing, litigation, policy advocacy and public education. NYLPI’s Environmental Justice program works with communities currently and potentially impacted by environmental harms such as toxic sites, environmentally unsafe schools and other noxious facilities to address threats to their health and safety and advocate for positive development. NYLPI also has expertise in health justice, and disability rights as well as coordinating an expansive network of volunteers from New York’s top law firms and corporate legal departments to provide pro bono legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and individuals in need.

Lawsuit revives NYC Schools PCB issue

One Bronx woman has taken matters into her own hands to force the NYC Dept of Ed to clean up her kids' school. The school, PS 178 in the Bronx, tested positive last year for enormous amounts of PCBs in the caulking, along with several other NYC schools, after the NY Daily News hired a team to investigate this issue. Yet nothing has been done to remove these harmful toxins from the schools.

Here are several news articles discussing the lawsuit:

NY Daily News
Staten Island Advance
Louisville Courier-Journal