By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
CARROLL GARDENS — After months of pleas by worried parents, the city admitted on Friday that lighting fixtures in two Carroll Gardens public schools are leaking toxic PCBs.
The Department of Education sent a letter to principals of P.S. 146 Brooklyn New School and M.S. 448 Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies, promising to remove the affected fixtures next week.
“We initially reported no PCB leaks in this building, and heard from parents,” said Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg on Friday. “As a result we conducted a walk-through of the building and we have discovered leaks. We want to thank the parents for bringing their concerns to us. Work on specific fixtures will be done early next week.”
In a letter sent to the schools, DOE said that "replacement of all of the light fixtures in your building will be given higher priority than other schools in the comprehensive plan at which no visible leaks were found."
Parents told the Brooklyn Eagle on that they are overjoyed with the announcement.
“We are thrilled that DOE has prioritized the replacement of PCB lights at the Brooklyn New School, and we look forward to the immediate replacement of the leaking lights,” said Ilan Kayatsky, a Brooklyn New School dad. “We truly appreciate that DOE listened to parents’ concerns over the welfare of our kids and teachers. Parents will be pleased to work with the city going forward to ensure that this process is done efficiently and cooperatively.”
Since the beginning of the year parents at the schools have been pushing the city to take action. Just last week they asked the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene, claiming that their documentation of the leaks — including photos of the leaking fixtures — were ignored by the DOE.
“Since finding out that BNS contains hundreds of T-12 fluorescent light fixtures made with PCBs, I have felt conflicted about sending my daughter — a cancer survivor — to school in this building,” said BNS parent Alexis Quy in a statement on Monday.
Kayatsky had words of thanks for all of the advocacy groups and representatives who had helped them make their case: “Thank you to NY Communities for Change, NY Lawyers for the Public Interest, Senator Squadron, Councilman Lander, and our other elected officials for this tremendous effort to make our school safer.”
Lighting ballasts and caulking installed between 1950 and 1978 contain the now-banned PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which have been linked to cancer, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive and immune disorders. The effects of PCBs on the reproductive health of girls and female teachers is especially troubling, experts say, because the chemicals accumulate over time and can stay in the body for decades.
According to the NYC School Construction Authority, the majority of the city’s schools — and 70 percent of schools in Brooklyn — contain PCBs.
DOE is in the second year of a ten-year plan to remove the contaminated fixtures — an effort that the city says is groundbreaking but which advocates say is far too slow. When the timeline was announced, Miranda K. Massie, director of litigation and training for NY Lawyers for the Public Interest, told the Eagle, “Ten years is an absurdly long time frame, given the risks these lights pose to children’s health.”
The city claims that “there is no immediate health concern and health effects from long term exposure to the air in school buildings are unlikely to occur at the PCB levels seen in the NYC schools,” but many health experts dispute that claim.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that PCB cleanup in the schools would be "fast-tracked." DOE clarifies this by saying the schools will be "given higher priority than other schools in the comprehensive plan at which no visible leaks were found."
For more about PCB leaks in the city’s public schools, visit brooklyneagle.com and search “PCBs.”