Fears of PCBs in Brooklyn schools

Community Board 13 is asking the city to make Brooklyn schools safe.

Reacting to reports that some Brooklyn schools contain Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), which are toxic chemicals, the board’s Education, Library and Youth Services Committee is asking the city Department of Education (DOE) to take action.

“It is in the best interest of everyone if the Department of Education takes a proactive approach to keeping everyone informed and addressing the concerns of students, parents, teachers and members of the general public,” Committee Chairman Brian Gotlieb wrote in a letter to schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.”

This paper recently reported that PCBs were found in several local schools, including P.S. 52 at 2675 East 29th Street in Sheepshead Bay and P.S. 288 at 2950 West 25th Street in Coney Island. Contaminants were also found in I.S. 126 at 424 Leonard Street, Bushwick High School at 400 Irving Avenue, P.S. 32 at 317 Hoyt Street and P.S. 38 at 450 Pacific Street.

Prior to being banned in the 1970s, PCBs were used in construction materials, mostly around windows and door frames.

Gotlieb wants the city to host public hearings about PCBs in schools and create a unit dedicated to addressing parents’ questions and concerns.

The DOE and EPA just reached an agreement on monitoring PCBs in local schools. The city will conduct a “comprehensive pilot study” to determine — and reduce — the environmental risks of exposure to PCBs.

The DOE and School Construction Authority (SCA) remove PCB caulking when found during school renovation projects, noted Kathleen Grimm, the DOE’s deputy chancellor for infrastructure and portfolio planning.

“Protecting the safety and well-being of the students and staff in our schools is one of our top priorities,” Grimm says.

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