Friday, January 22, 2010

City, Environmental Protection Agency Make Deal to Test Schools for PCB Toxin by Bill Egbert - NY Daily News

Locally, MS 210 in Ozone Park is on the list of affected school sites...
Read original...

The city has agreed to test schools for PCBs and, if needed, come up with a plan to protect kids from exposure after a Daily News probe found the toxin in the window caulking of several schools.

The settlement between the city Education Department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency heads off a parents' lawsuit for now - and puts the schools under tougher federal scrutiny.

The deal dictates a million-dollar pilot study of five schools that could lead to much more testing.

"The program outlined in this agreement, along with general EPA guidance on managing the issue, will serve as a model for school systems across the country," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.

Because PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were routinely added to caulking before the chemicals were outlawed in 1977, buildings nationwide constructed before then are at risk for serious PCB contamination.

The city had been in talks with the EPA since April 2008, when a News investigation found high concentrations of toxic PCBs in the caulking of several school buildings, in violation of federal law.

The Education Department expects the pilot study to cost about $1 million.

The EPA consent decree spares the city from having to pay millions of dollars in fines and also heads off a suit filed last year on behalf of Naomi Gonzalez, a Bronx mom of two, by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

"This doesn't get us all the way there," said Gonzalez, a teacher's aide, "but it's a real step in the right direction."

Following The News' probe, the city began testing old window caulking for PCBs - revealing contamination in 85 more buildings. The city has argued that left untouched, the caulking is safe.

The agreement, reached Tuesday, does not require the city to test all schools or to remove all PCB caulking it finds, but the EPA will monitor the city's actions.

While praising the settlement as a "positive first step," Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said she's still committed to a bill demanding citywide testing.