Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Calls to Shut Down Staten Island School Until PCBs Removed
Sunday, January 09, 2011
After the discovery of toxic PCBs, New York City school officials have closed two classrooms at PS 36 on Staten Island. In a letter to Michael Mulgrew, the head of the teachers union, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said the measure was taken as a "precaution," and that the rooms would remain closed "until we are certain there is no health concern."
Walcott noted "the affected materials" had been removed from the classrooms, but the Department has not confirmed whether he was referring to light fixtures, floor tiles, or other things. Additionally, Walcott said that upon consultation with the city's Health Commissioner, there was no reason to close the rest of the school.
But Staten Island councilman Vincent Ignizio disagrees. Given the high toxicity of PCBs, Ignizio thinks the entire building should be closed for the time being.
"I don't believe that the current situation at PS 36 is safe for people to be occupying the building," said Ignizio. "The DOE disagrees, but they're not scientists either."
Ignizio wants an independent monitor, "in this case, the United States EPA, to come in, do some testing, and say this school is safe. Then I would be able to look people in the eye and say I believe it's safe," said Ignizio.
Joining Ignizio in calling for a full school closure was Miranda Massie, an attorney in the environmental justice division of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. According to Massie, preliminary tests on floor tiles, contaminated by a PCB spill from a light fixture, measured PCB levels between 1,000 and 12,000 parts per million. The Environmental Protection Agency considers the safe level to be no more than 50 parts per million.
"There's every reason to think that other lights in that building have leak problems," said Massie. "Even if they haven't spilled to outside the fixtures, it's overwhelmingly likely they've spilled within the light fixtures."
And she said "there is absolutely no doubt" that hundreds of other public schools in the city are at risk of PCB contamination.
The Department of Education did not respond to additional requests for information.