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Region 2

Serving New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and Eight Tribal Nations.

PCBs in Schools

Public Meetings

As required by EPA’s agreement with the City and the SCA, EPA met with the public and accepted comments on the Preferred Citywide Remedy. The transcripts of these meetings can be found here: 

Statement from Judith A. Enck U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator May 21, 2013

Settlement of Case Between NYLPI and New York City Regarding PCBs in Schools

"Protecting children and school faculty from harmful chemical exposures is a top priority for the EPA. Today's settlement has shortened the city's time frame by five years for replacing old PCB-containing lighting fixtures that can fail and unnecessarily expose students and faculty to dangerous PCBs. This is a tremendous victory for school children, teachers and school staff in the largest public school system in the nation. PCBs are a toxic threat that should not be in any school. I applaud Mayor Bloomberg, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, United Federation of Teachers, NY Communities for Change, concerned parents and the many elected officials who worked so hard to address this toxic problem."

More Information

Presentation for NYC Public Meetings [PDF 2.1 MB, 34 pp]

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic mixtures of man-made chemicals that were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications. They are chemically stable, have a high boiling point, are not flammable and do not conduct electricity. These characteristics made PCBs an ideal chemical for use in electrical equipment, such as fluorescent light ballasts. PCBs were also used in paints, caulks and other applications. Before production stopped in the late 1970’s, more than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States.

In 1976 Congress regulated PCBs through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA includes, among other things, prohibitions on the manufacture, processing and distribution in commerce of PCBs.

In January 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency entered into an agreement with the City of New York and the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA). The agreement required the City and the SCA to evaluate the presence of PCBs in school buildings, particularly in caulk, and to determine the most effective strategies for assessing and reducing potential exposure. This evaluation was performed as part of a Pilot Study of five City schools (one school was selected from each borough). Detailed information regarding the Pilot Study can be found on the SCA’s website Exit EPA disclaimer .

Using the results of the Pilot Study (found in the City’s Final Remedial Investigation Report), the City and the SCA developed a Preferred Citywide Remedy for addressing PCBs present in the City’s schools. EPA convened an independent peer review panel to evaluate the effectiveness of the Preferred Citywide Remedy.

Many schools in the United States built before 1979 have ballasts in their fluorescent lighting fixtures that contain PCBs. Ballasts are devices that control the amount of current in an electrical circuit. Until the late 1970s, PCBs were commonly used as insulators in electrical equipment because they have high tolerance to heat, do not burn easily, and are non-explosive.

Congress banned the manufacture of PCBs in the United States in 1977 because of their toxic effects. In 1979, EPA banned the use of PCBs, except in totally enclosed equipment. However, a large number of fluorescent light ballasts that were installed prior to these bans may contain PCBs and may still be in use in U.S. schools.An intact ballast from a typical pre-1979 fluorescent light fixture.

Intact, operational ballasts containing PCBs may not pose a health risk or environmental hazard. However, as they age, the ballasts degrade.  Depending on the number of operating hours, the typical life expectancy of a fluorescent light ballast is between 10 and 15 years. The failure rate prior to the end of the useful life of ballasts is about 10 percent. After this typical life expectancy, ballast failure rates increase significantly. All of the pre-1979 ballasts in lighting fixtures that are still in use are now far beyond this life expectancy, increasing the risk of leaks or even fires, which would pose a health and environmental hazard.

Recent EPA inspections in New York City public schools found that many light ballasts in these schools contained PCBs and had also failed, causing the PCBs to leak. 

2011 PCB Sampling Summary:
Results EPA has released from the schools that it has inspected to date.



Date of Sampling Event

# of Samples Taken

# Samples Exceeding federal limit of  50 ppm (mg/kg)

PS 53

Staten Island




PS 11





PS 13
PS 358





PS 68





PS 206
PS 37
PS 112





PS 45





PS 306






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