City Council Promises More Transparency on PCBs in Schools

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A group of parents and others gathered on the rain-soaked steps of City Hall Wednesday morning chanting “No more PCBs’’ and wearing T-shirts that said “I have a right to know.’’ Before the protesters could make their way home, the City Council announced it will hold hearings on a bill to demand that the Department of Education notify parents of any PCB contamination found during inspection of public schools.

“It's obvious parents have a right to know,” Robert Jackson, a City Council member and chairman of the education committee, told the group. “If any elected officials believe parents don’t have a right to know, stand up now or shut the hell up.”

New York Lawyers for The Public Interest had brought the parents and other elected officials together and formed a new group that will be called Right to Know to call for better notification of dangerous chemicals in schools. The rally was organized after high levels of toxins were detected at P.S. 51 New School in the Bronx, and parents and teachers were not notified for six months. The school was moved this summer to another location.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are harmful chemicals that were used in construction materials and light fixtures. High levels of PCBs were found in several New York City schools in the summer of 2010 during a pilot study.

In a statement issued by the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, Mr. Jackson and others, the city officials said they plan to hold a hearing on a measure they are calling the Parental Notification bill.

“We in the Council have great concern for the health and well-being of schoolchildren who learn in New York City school buildings,’’ they said in their statement.

At the rally, Miranda Massie, who works with Right to Know, said PCBs are one of the most toxic man-made compounds and were banned by Congress in 1978.

“There’s really no major system in the human body that PCBs leave untouched,” said Ms. Massie, the legal director with New York Lawyers for The Public Interest. “They pose very substantial risks across the spectrum of human health.”

She expected to see some illnesses associated with PCB contamination in the future, but is not aware of any confirmed cases in New York City schools.

Daniel Rojas, who plans to send his 6-year-old daughter Abigail to P.S. 48 tomorrow, said he is concerned because he doesn’t know if her school is contaminated.

“I would probably send her to another school, but we don’t know if the other school is contaminated too,” said Mr. Rojas, 40, of Washington Heights. “I get upset because it’s something we can do, we can clean it.”

Jacob Ciguencia, a 9-year-old who attended the protest, said he doesn’t want to go to his first day of fourth grade tomorrow at P.S. 19.

“I don’t want to go to school because my classroom can be with PCB’s and I’m scared that I can be sick.”