As I have blogged before, I fear that the true extent of the PCB problem in our public schools is only starting to become fully known. Three more New York City public schools have been found to contain elevated levels of PCBs, in violation of federal standards. New York City acknowledges the results of the EPA required tests but unfortunately, doesn't go any further. The EPA ordered testing has revealed elevated PCB levels in almost a dozen New York City schools but the total number of schools being tested and when is unknown. It seems that every school tested has returned PCB levels above the federal limits for maximum long-term exposure.
The initial stipulation with the U.S. EPA required that a few New York City public schools be tested, and if any required remediation, the City and the EPA would draw up a plan to combat the PCB problem. The elevated results were initially attributed to the presence of contaminated caulking around the windows, which was removed. Despite the City's attempts to downplay the problem, test results have come back showing that PCB contamination is much more widespread that previously acknowledged and not limited to the caulking. No longer is this a problem limited to just a few schools; it has become widespread with the possibility that a substantial amount of the schools may be affected.
The effects of long term PCB exposure is not well known. Between the window caulking that has been recently removed and the discovery of PCBs leaking from the ballasts contained in thousands of fluorescent lighting fixtures, our children may have been exposed to elevated PCB levels for many years. Some of our children may even have directly ingested PCBs as leaking ballasts may have left residue on surfaces that children have come into direct contact with.
With statistics showing that 1 in 10 school age children will be diagnosed with autism, and environmental factors believed to be a leading cause of that statistic, one has to wonder if there is a link between our children's and exposure to PCBs and the ever increasing incidence of autism. Unfortunately, history has shown that the connection between the cause and the disease or illness isn't made until years after thousands are affected. I can only hope that EPA forces the City to test all schools, right now, and take whatever action is necessary, despite the cost or inconvenience. We need to act now and answer once or for all if we are putting our children in harms way.