Removing PCBs From Schools Now Complicated By Asbestos, Says Ed Dept

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

education, classroom, school, school supplies, class, teachers, students (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The city's Department of Education said the hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures it plans to replace in the city's schools because they contain PCBs are also contaminated with asbestos.

Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm told a City Council committee hearing that inspectors found asbestos that was used to insulate the problematic fixtures while examining them for signs of leaking PCBs.

"Asbestos comes with its own special rules and containment procedures," said Grimm of the cancer-causing material.

She said it can only be removed on weekends and holidays, not evenings "because we have to actually contain the area, and make sure that we're removing it properly and disposing of it properly."

That makes it very hard to work quickly.

Grimm said this is one reason why it will take the city up to 10 years to remove and replace all of the lighting fixtures with PCBs from the public schools. The Department of Education said almost 800 schools have contaminated lighting fixtures.

PCBs are linked to cancer, developmental disabilities and other health problems and were widely used until the late 1970s. Tests conducted in the city last summer found they can leak into the air of school buildings as they age at levels above the federal standard.

While noting that PCB's in the air don't cause an immediate risk to children, the Environmental Protection Agency has advised the city to do all it can to get rid of them. It conducted seven targeted inspections in school buildings earlier this year, which found high concentrations of PCBs in lighting ballasts.

It stopped the inspections when the city came up with a 10-year plan to remove all of the effected lighting fixtures. Its regional office calls that a "step in the right direction" but insists the fixtures can be removed from all 772 schools in no more than five years.

City Council members are urging the Department of Education to follow or even beat the EPA's more aggressive timetable.

"I believe, based on their leadership and advice, that five years is a time frame in which we can remove these lighting fixtures," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

She urged the DOE to remove PCBs from schools in an "orderly and an effective matter" that protects public health.

The city has estimated its 10-year plan will cost $850 million. Quinn suggested that contractors might be able to do the job for less money as they make the city's lighting and heating fixtures more energy efficient.

Grimm told council members that companies will be invited to submit their bids after a Request for Proposals is issued in June. But she repeated that the EPA is "underestimating the complexity of performing work of this type in school buildings."

So far, she said, school custodians have been inspecting lighting fixtures for brown stains and other signs of leakage. She said ballast leaks have been observed in lighting fixtures in 43 school buildings.

All of those with signs of current or past leakage were "replaced immediately," Grimm said, while the remainder of light fixtures in those buildings will be replaced within a year of inspection.

And as the city goes about replacing all of the potentially effected fixtures, it will concentrate first on elementary buildings constructed between 1950 and 1966 because the EPA found the "magnetic" ballasts in those buildings were more likely to leak than the "electronic" ones used later.

Meanwhile, the group New York Communities for Change filed notice that it intends to sue under the federal toxic substances control act if the city doesn't update its PCB removal plans.

The group also wants teachers and other union members to be more involved in the process, said Miranda Massie of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who's representing the group.


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Comments [5]

Mr.Sashi from Birmingham

I am a small business owner and the issues of clearing the Asbestos secondary wastes and keeping the Environment clean really affect my business on a daily basis.


Mr Sashi
ASL Asbestos
Suite 106
35 St Pauls Square
B3 1QX
0121 371 9205

Sep. 21 2011 03:47 AM
asbestos removal perth from Perth, Western Australia

Asbestos removal, if not done properly can be more hazardous than leaving the material in place.
For safe asbestos removal go to

Aug. 03 2011 10:15 PM
Sasha Jensen

This is disturbing. Asbestos and other toxic materials should be taken seriously, particularly when it comes to the safety of children. Asbestos by itself can cause many serious diseases. There’s more info on the topic here:

May. 09 2011 11:59 AM
donaball from Michigan

Can Mr. Mugivan provide more information than the blanket statements that he is making? It does not matter that he is a retired professor, literarcy teacher and and energy consultant.

What I am looking for is Peer Reviewed literature that will substantiate his position.

If you can provide this, then, your blanket statements may be valid.

Apr. 19 2011 12:02 PM
Joseph Mugivan from Port Washington

I was next to you at the hearings.
I am a retired professor and teacher
in literacy studies and an energy consultant.

Summer school should be cancelled
1.The incremental benefit to 10% of the student population is outweighed by the health hazard in the schools.
2.Summer school may be ineffective according to the Federal NAEP scores which show no progress for students in recent years.
3. These summer activities can be diverted to local libraries
4. Summer school uses almost as much energy than the school does the rest of the year.
5. Funding for summer school can be directed to avoid teacher layoffs

Apr. 14 2011 01:33 PM

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