Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What happened at the EPA hearing?

Parents turned out in force on July 29th at the Hilton Times Square to bring the EPA a strong message about PCB-contaminated caulk. It struck me that the middle of a street filled with promises of frivolous entertainment was an unlikely place to witness what turned out to be a serious and passionate public meeting (to learn more about what this public meeting was for, please see the previous post, below). In attendance were parents, teachers and advocates representing the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. Here’s a smattering of highlights as seen from my seat in the middle row:

• The first speaker from Bronx Health Link - set the tone during his turn at the podium by asking, bluntly and pointedly, what the EPA representatives consider, exactly, to be an “undue burden” to the schools should they be required to clean up PCB-contaminated caulk. Weren’t the children and staff of potentially contaminated schools also facing an undue burden of risk to health by continued exposure to PCBs?

• The PTA President from PS 199 in Manhattan spoke about the continued problems with elevated PCB levels at his school despite recent clean-up efforts by the DOE/SCA. Because of persistent high levels of PCBs showing up on tests, PS 199 is one of the schools in the Pilot Study. To eliminate or loosen the 50 parts-per-million (ppm) regulatory limit for PCBs in caulk would undermine efforts to protect the children at this school.

• Next up: a rep from 32BJ SEIU spoke on behalf of the custodial workers who are on the front lines and at high risk to exposure from PCB-contaminated caulk. He pointed out that the caulk hasn’t been tested for PCBs in many of the potentially contaminated schools that have undergone construction over the last several years. He underscored what many of the parents expressed (repeatedly): that there is a lack of confidence that DOE/SCA will adequately protect staff and children from potential exposure. Given that the DOE/SCA are under court order to design a clean-up plan for the entire City, now is not the time for the EPA (the federal regulatory agency that parents rely on for enforcement and protection) to relax the rules.

• A parent and teacher at PS 309 in Bed-Stuy brought the house down when she described the cumulative environmental burdens that her community faces. Her school was also selected for the Pilot Study. Could it be, she asked, that the very place where children were sent to learn was so contaminated with PCBs that it was preventing them from doing just that? How many more threats to their future would these children be forced to endure? Is avoiding the cost of cleaning up the schools really worth the ultimate price of poor health? She demanded that the EPA continue to carry out their mission to protect human health by keeping the current regulations in place. We have only started to uncover the truth about the harm posed by living and working in PCB-contaminated buildings.

• Two parents from the NYC PCB-free Schools Coalition described the harrowing experience of when they first learned about PCB-contaminated caulk in their kids’ schools in Co-op City How frightening to think that you do everything in your power to keep your children safe only to find that there is poison in the walls of the buildings where they go to school.

• A Staten Island mom shared the heartbreaking story of how her son suffered from chronic severe asthma attacks during a construction project at his school which, according to her own independent testing, had high levels of PCBs.

• We also heard from Danny Lefkowitz, a parent and activist who has fought to bring this emerging health threat into sharp focus -

• At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Maria Doa , of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Program Chemicals Division, stood up at the podium to let us know that she heard us loud and clear. She thanked us for our thoughtful and important comments and promised to take our message back to Headquarters. She also promised to make sure that our comments would be carefully evaluated during the next phase of the rulemaking process.

A special shout out goes out to allies who have put themselves out on the front lines to protect school children, teachers, custodial workers and other school employees from PCB-contaminated caulk: The Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s office, the UFT, NYCOSH, AM Linda Rosenthal’s office and concerned parents from across the City who have already spoken at previous hearings. As a community organizer, it was really inspiring to see everyone come together in that room to deliver their powerful message. What would you have said to the EPA if you could have gone? Submit your comments below. And, hey, it’s not too late… written comments are being accepted until August 20th, check the bottom of the post for instructions.

We’ll keep you updated as the process moves along and we will do everything possible to ensure that the EPA keeps the regulatory protections intact.

All of the comments will be made available to the public at:  To find out more about how the rulemaking process go to:
For more information about this issue or to join our NYC PCB-free Schools Coalition please contact Gigi Gazon, Community Organizer EJ Program, or by calling (212) 244-4664 x 474

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a retired waterproofer/caulker who installed this pcb latent caulk in the 60's and 70's. I'm baffeled that the men who used it haven't stepped forward yet. These workers including myself brought this material home on our clothing when it was still tacky.
Come on guys you remember Pecora's 2 part GC-5 At least let's talk about this problem!