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PCBs in Schools

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

EPA Inspection results for PCB-containing lighting ballasts in PS 306 in Brooklyn, New York. Twenty-five of Thirty-one Samples Above Regulatory Limit.

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.

School

Borough

Date of Sampling Event

# of Samples Taken

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

PS 53

Staten Island

1/8/2011

33

22

PS 11

Brooklyn

1/15/2011

28

18

PS 13
PS 358

Brooklyn

1/22/2011

7

7

PS 68

Bronx

1/29/2011

13

10

PS 206
PS 37
PS 112

Manhattan

2/5/2011

10
1
3

9
1
2

PS 45

Brooklyn

2/12/2011

19

19

PS 306

Brooklyn

2/19/2011

31

25


 

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