Burst Lightbulb in Harlem School Sends 11 to Hospital

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Nine students and two staff members from P.S./I.S. 123 in Harlem were sent to a hospital Tuesday for smoke irritation after a light fixture emitted smoke and fumes. The incident provided more ammunition to critics of the city’s clean-up plan for aging light fixtures that contain toxic PCBs.

According to the Department of Education, the building was evacuated for about 30 minutes; all those sent to the hospital were released. The third-floor classroom where the light fixture malfunctioned remains closed. Parents were notified of the incident, and would be told of the results from a wipe sample of the room, according to D.O.E. spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.

She added that the room would be ventilated overnight, and the light fixture would be replaced.

Critics have been urging the D.O.E. to move faster in upgrading older fixtures that contain PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which were used in fluorescent lighting before it was banned over 30 years ago.

“How many D.O.E. bureaucrats does it take to change a toxic light bulb?” asked State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“The D.O.E.'s negligent failure to remove toxic lighting ballasts from New York City public schools is putting children's health in peril,” she said.

The D.O.E. has said its remediation plan is underway; replacing all the old fixtures at hundreds of schools will take about 10 years. In the meantime, the D.O.E. has said the fixtures do not pose any immediate risks.

P.S./I.S. 123 shares the building with a Harlem Success Academy Charter School 5.

Advocates and school community members have scheduled a rally in front of P.S./I.S. 123 to demand immediate remediation of every public school building containing PCBs across the city.