More Elevated PCB Levels Found in New York City Schools

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.

First Dangerous Drinks, Now Bath Salts? Yes, Bath Salts Are the New New York High.

I have blogged about the dangers of four loko, a highly-caffeinated cheap alcoholic drink, and incense, widely available to all and known as the "legal pot." Through responsible government action, four loko was removed from store shelves in New York City. We are still waiting for the "zero tolerance" law to be passed which would prohibit the sale of synthetic marijuana. However, a new danger is facing Island parents - bath salts. Yes, bath salts have now been labeled a "drug of concern" by the DEA.

Don't let the name fool you. These salts contain a stimulant with effects similar to that of methamphetamine or cocaine With names such as Ivory Snow, Hurricane Charlie or Ivory Wave, these chemicals have raised concern with authorities throughout the U.S., with many lawmaker's preparing bills banning their sale. The effects of the drugs contained in the bath salts are so powerful that one user slit his face and stomach repeatedly while under its influence. Another is reported to have committed suicide after the bath salts caused three days of delirium.

These bath salts contain mephedron and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MPDV, drugs that are made in a lab and not regulated because they are not intended for human consumption. The salt powders are snorted, injected or smoked by the user and immediately affect the central nervous system. The salts can increase your blood pressure to dangerous levels, trigger a heart attack or stroke, and are highly addictive. They are also widely available on-line and in convenience stores. Once again, a life-threatening drug has been placed in easy reach of our children and we, as parents, are unable to do anything to stop it. Legislation banning this drug could take years before becoming effective. What will happen in the meantime? Will this drug become the designer drug of choice for many addicts? How many people will die and how many lives will be ruined before this drug is banned. Urge your senators and congressmen to act now, before more of our children are lost forever.

More PCBs Found In New York City Schools

Despite the City of New York continuing to downplay the significance, more and more test results have shown high levels of PCBs in New York City Public Schools. These results have come from spot checks conducted at various schools throughout the City. Last year, the City of New York entered into a stipulation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wherein a few of the more than 1,600 public schools were required to be tested for PCBs.

If levels higher than those allowed by federal law were found, the City was required to cleanup what was believed to be the source of the contamination; namely, caulking in the windows at these particular schools. However, once the caulk was removed from the windows at a few select schools, another source of contamination became apparent. The thousands of fluorescent lights hanging in our children's classrooms could be leaking PCBs into the air, causing levels more than 10 times the EPA limit of 50 parts per million.

The City, despite these findings, maintains that there is no danger as the exposure is not likely to cause immediate harm to children. What the City has sadly missed is that children are and have been exposed to PCBs in our public schools for the long term. Most public school children will be in the same school building for at least six (6) years. No one knows what the true effect of such long term exposure, despite PCB being a known carcinogen whose manufacture has been banned.

The City claims that it will cost over a billion dollars to remove and replace all the fluorescent lighting in the schools. The actual cost has been debated by the City, the EPA and parent groups. The City's words about about lack of immediate harm to students provides their true reason and true motive for such a price tag. Declaring a crisis would potentially displace 1.1 million students from their schools while the PCBs were removed and the classrooms were cleaned.  Procuring space for these 1.1 million students, setting up temporary classrooms and cleaning up what I believe to be a much bigger problem than anyone has allowed us to believe would easily eclipse the $1,000,000,000 estimate. Such a scenario would bankrupt the City and create a problem that has not short term solution. I am sure that there will be much more to this story, as my previous posts to this blog have shown. 

Be Careful of Carbon Monoxide While Shoveling Out Your Car

Many of you have heard about the Bronx tragedy where two small children suffered carbon monoxide poisoning as they sat in their car as their mother cleared it of snow. The car was running to keep the small children warm while the most recent snow fall was removed from around the car. What the children's mother didn't realize was that snow had blocked up the tailpipe, causing dangerous carbon monoxide to vent into the closed car.

When clearing snow, before starting your car, make sure that you have removed the snow from around the tailpipe. If you are unsure, leave a window slightly open if you are sitting in your car with the engine running, waiting for it to warm up. This will allow any carbon monoxide to escape while providing you with fresh air. Even if your car's tail pipe appears to be clear, small holes in the exhaust system may also allow carbon monoxide to enter the passenger compartment. If you are lucky enough to have your car in a garage, limit the time how long you keep the car started as exhaust fumes will eventually work their way into your house, placing your family at risk. Make sure that you have working carbon monoxide detectors on all floors of your house. If the alarm goes off, open the windows and get out of the house.

Carbon monoxide provides no warning; it is colorless and odorless, rendering you unconscious if you are exposed to high enough levels. Once you slip into unconsciousness, unless someone moves you into fresh air, your chance for recovery from carbon monoxide poisoning is poor. Since more snow is expected in the coming weeks, please take a few minutes to ensure you and your family's safety during this dangerous winter weather.

Have a Safe And Happy New Years Eve!

As midnight approaches, I am sure that many people are busy with plans for the New Year's celebration. Unfortunately, many of those celebrations include excessive amounts of alcohol. Coupled with the difficult driving conditions that New Yorker's have faced over the last several days, this New Year's Eve is an especially dangerous night out.

If you are planning on driving tonight, designate a driver. To some, a designated driver is a joke as the drunk driver is usually all too quick to boast how well he can drive intoxicated. However, a designated driver not only protects you as a passenger but it also protects other people out on the roads and even those simply crossing the street. Faced with slippery, snow narrowed streets, the difference in reaction time between an impaired driver and sober one becomes critical when winter weather is involved. A designated driver will save your life.

Even walking home on a night like tonight brings added dangers. Although some people feel that its safer to walk home tonight, the sheer amount of snow still left on our streets brings added danger from slip and falls and from cars that don't have enough room to pass by. Many streets and sidewalks still are not fully cleaned from the snow, forcing many Staten Island residents to walk out into the street, facing cars speeding along. Despite some driver's feeling that they are able to safely pass you, if they can see you, the side-view mirrors of many cars extend out past the body of the car. Even if the car doesn't hit you, the mirror may, causing serious injuries. If you are walking in the street, stop walking and get out of the way until a car passes you. Don't take for granted that the driver sees you or has enough room to pass you.

If you are out and about tonight, take extra precautions. Make sure that you leave early so you wont need to rush. Designate a driver if you plan on drinking or, better yet, just call cab service. If you do drive, keep a sharp lookout for people walking alongside the street and crossing at intersections. If you plan on walking, make sure you wear light colored clothing and take extra care when crossing the street. If you are headed out to Times  Square, wear appropriate clothing as you will be forced to stand outside for hours in the cold.  

I wish all a very Happy and Healthy New Years and a safe and prosperous 2011. I look forward to continuing to help keep Staten Islander''s safe and providing important information regarding issues that affect homeowners, workers and students.

More PCB's Present In Staten Island Schools

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has informed the City of New York that they will start to inspect public schools for PCB contamination starting next month. The EPA has advised the City to remove older fluorescent fixtures that can leak PCB into the air and onto surfaces such as desks and tables. The City has objected to the EPA's advice, saying that the fixtures pose no immediate threat and that replacing them would cost over $1 billion and result in the layoff of over 15,000 teachers. Needless to say, the EPA disputes the City's figures as to the cost.

PCB's are contained in the ballast of most fluorescent fixtures manufactured before the 1978 ban. In the average ballast, the device that controls the current in fluorescent bulbs, approximately 1 - 1 1/2 ounces of PCBs may be contained inside. The PCBs were used as an insulator to protect the electrical parts from becoming too hot and melting. When the ballast fails, it allows PCB's to leak out of the fixture.

PCBs are dangerous and readily absorbed through the skin if a student comes into direct contact with the leaked fluids. They may also be absorbed by the air that we breathe if the ballast is broken open. The dangers of long-term PCB contamination are not well known. Studies have shown that high-level exposure can cause specific types of cancer, such as liver cancer. Children exposed to PCBs have shown neurological damage, cognitive impairment and memory deficits.

What strikes me as very curious about this order is the first report of PCB contamination in New York City Schools. This blog's August 10, 2010 post spoke about the EPA's order to start testing certain schools for PCB contamination in the caulking around the windows. The City, somewhat secretly, began testing certain public schools for PCB contamination earlier in the year. The results showed PCB levels higher than the federal guidelines for long term exposure. This result appeared to be somewhat surprising to the City of New York. One has to wonder what went on behind the scenes that has actually brought the EPA to conduct their own inspections. Are the levels still highly elevated, even after the removal of the caulk? How long are we going to wait before we know the real story about the levels of contamination? Our children may be exposed to years of this contamination -  we need to write our local politician's and demand to know the real truth.

The Zadroga Bill a Christmas Miracle? That's Not What I Know About Christmas!

Picking up yesterday's Staten Island Advance, I still cant believe what I read. The article, Backers of 9/11 Health Bill Optimistic, seemed to relay some good news to the thousands of sick and suffering workers waiting for medical care and compensation for their injuries. The bill is named after James Zadroga, a New York City detective who died at the age of 36 from a rare respiratory illness his family contends that he contracted during the World Trade Center cleanup. The bill has been stalled in congress while both sides of the aisle work out how to pay for it, with costs estimated to be $6.2 billion over 10 years.

What shocked me was a quote by Senator Kristin Gillibrand that "We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle", making reference to the possibility that there may be enough votes to pass this bill. How can anyone equate the passing of the bill with a miracle, regardless of the season? Since when has doing the right thing become a miracle? Are we at such a time in our society?  This bill will help those who are sick and dying from rare cancers and diseases, those who rushed to help without question at a time when this country was shaken to its foundations.

I read about a funeral of a first responder who recently died from a rare nasal cancer that literally ate his face. His wife and 3 children have lost their husband, father and friend. Besides the physical and emotional relationship that has been lost, what about the financial support that he provided? Who is going to replace that? When we needed the first responders in our time of need, they came and they stayed, despite all the lies told by the EPA about the air being safe to breathe. When their families need us in their time of need, where do we stand? Can we walk away or as Americans, do we do what's right?

Today on the radio I heard one commentator state that the real beneficiary of the Zadroga Bill would be trial lawyers. The ignorance shown in that statement is the root cause of the delay in passing the bill. In 2001, hundreds of lawyers lined up to do what they could to help, organizing Trial Lawyers Care, which provided free legal services to those families applying to the Victim's Compensation Fund. I recovered over $2.5 million for the young widow of a worker killed in the terrorist attack. I am proud to say I did so pro bono, despite the considerable time and effort that the Application required, attending each meeting with my client and helping her through to a new life. Pass the bill - people are dying - and relieve some of their suffering by letting them know that their families will be taken care of after their gone.

First Staten Island Snowfall Brings Danger to Island Roads

Many Staten Island residents woke to a sprinkling of snow on the ground and on their cars this morning. Those in the more northern and western areas of the City received up to 4" of unexpected snowfall. Along with the pretty-looking snow comes the all-too frequent car accidents caused by cars and trucks not being able to stop in time or skiddingand losing control. Many drivers of SUV's or all-wheel drive cars seem to believe that they are able to drive without any change to their normal speed under snow conditions. Unfortunately, this is not true at all and the lesson is usually learned the hard way by SUV drivers.

All-wheel drive will definitely provide you with more traction under slippery conditions, allowing you to pull out from your driveway or start up from a red light but you still will have just 4 wheels on the ground to stop with. Despite all-wheel drive and traction control, its the 4 "contact patches", where the tires meet the road, that help you to stop. Having all-wheel drive does not mean that you have any better braking or steering ability than a similarly equipped 2-wheel drive car. Despite having the most technologically advanced car, nothing will stop your car from skidding if you hit a patch of black ice. In fact, as SUV drivers tend to drive faster, they are more commonly involved in rear-end collisions during snow and/or ice conditions.

As Staten Island seems to be dominated by hulking multi-passenger SUV's that seem to drive too fast when its not raining or snowing, the potential for accidents during the winter driving season is extreme. As we are unable to prevent SUV's from driving in bad weather, except in the most extreme snow-emergencies where the streets are closed, driver's need to change their behavior. Tailgating a slower moving car in a snow storm will only lead to an accident when the car in front slows down. Remember, you will not be abel t stop any quicker. Driving after a snow storm, especially when ice has had the opportunity to melt and re-freeze, may cause you to encounter black ice, which is nearly invisible but very dangerous. If you are driving too quickly, you may not be able to stop or lose control all together, endangering yourself and other drivers and pedestrians on the roads. We cant stop mother nature but we can all do our best to stop reckless winter driving. Lets slow down and enjoy the snow. Better yet, don't drive unless you absolutely have too.

In an Accident? Be Prepared To Pay More If You Are Hurt!

In what can only be called a troubling sign of the times, the Fire Department of the City of New York has announced a "crash tax" that will take affect next summer. The crash tax essentially charges anyone involved in a car accident needing FDNY assistance from $365 - $490, depending on the severity of the accident. The FDNY has said that the purpose of the crash tax is to relieve the burden of the taxpayer from footing the bill for emergency response and to place it on those that were at fault and their insurance company. Despite the FDNY statements, all drivers are going to be charged, regardless of whose fault the accident was. Ambulances in New York City already charge $400 - $500 for transportation to a hospital and the crash tax will double that bill.

Will this lead to some other, outside determination of liability or fault by a City of New York agency? Will they review the police reports and try to determine fault? If such a panel is ever created, that would create a third forum in which fault is decided, adding to the arbitration agreements between your insurance company and any lawsuits resulting from the car accident.

Some have questioned whether car insurance would actually cover the cost of the crash tax. In New York State, each and every car insurance policy includes coverage for economic losses resulting from a car accident. This coverage, known as no-fault, currently pays for the ambulance bill, regardless of who was at fault. I would see no reason why the current no-fault law would deny payment of the crash tax.

Will your insurance go up? Probably. Will there be an outcry for tort reform, blaming accident lawyers for your increase in insurance premiums? Absolutely. What is really happening here is that a cash-strapped municipality is seeking to close a budget gap by going after insurance. The City of New York is one of the most aggressive in defending lawsuits for personal injuries, frequently stating that settlements are passed on to the taxpayer. They are now forcing consumers into the same predicament as insurance carriers are definitely going to pass on the increase through higher premiums. Although the City has the opportunity to defend themselves before they have to pay money, they have magically taken away your right to do so, charging everyone. Is that fair?

Be Safe This Staten Island Christmas

All this week I have noticed Christmas trees tied on top of cars, on their way home for the holidays. Before you put up your tree, make sure that you have prepared your home and decorations to ensure a safe holiday season. If you have a real tree, its important that you water it frequently, especially over the first few days you have the tree in your house. Normally, the base will be recut where you buy your tree before they put it on top of your car. If they haven't, you will need to cut about 1" off the bottom before you put it in the stand so that the tree will properly take up water into the trunk. You want to make sure that the tree doesn't dry out before Christmas day. Select a spot away from radiators or heating vents, which will quickly dry the tree out, despite your efforts at watering. Also, remember to keep lit candles away from the tree. An errant ember or the candle being knocked over may cause the tree to go on fire. The same holds true for Hanukkah Menorah. Make sure that the Menorah is kept away from curtains or drapes, which could burn if they come into contact with the lights.

When you are putting on the tree light's, make sure that the wires are not frayed or broken. Despite the small bulbs appearance, the electricity running through the wires is the same as that which powers your household appliances. If the frayed wires short, which means that the bare wires touch each other, a fire will result. Avoid using the large, old-style, screw-in light bulbs on a real Christmas tree. These bulbs get very hot and when they come into contact with a dry branch, they have possibility to start a fire. Instead of the large bulbs, buy the smaller, cooler mini-lights or even better, the new LED lights. These lights burn at a much cooler temperature and also have the benefit of using much less electricity. Although they are initially more expensive than regular incandescent bulbs, they last considerably longer and their cost is more than made up for in electricity savings.

If you have small children in the house, make sure that the tree is safely secured in the base to avoid tipping over. Keep glass ornaments on the upper branches, away from the small children, as they may break the ornament or ingest broken glass if they put the ornament in their mouth. Also, some of the berries present on holiday plants, such as Holly and Mistletoe, are toxic. Make sure to remove the berries if your plants are in an area where small children can eat them. Following these simple tips will help to ensure that your focus can be on enjoying the holidays. Please have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.