Liu proposes bonds to speed removal of toxic PCBs from NYC schools

November 30, 2012 Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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City Comptroller John C. Liu on Friday called for the issuance of special bonds to accelerate the removal of toxic PCB-contaminated light fixtures from New York City public schools.

“Our students should learn about PCBs in class, but through their textbooks, not through firsthand exposure,” he said at a press conference attended by parents, environmental advocates and union representatives.

By issuing Green Apple Bonds, Liu hopes to rid city schools of the decrepit light fixtures housing by 2015, six years ahead of the city’s current schedule and at savings of $339 million.

Lighting ballasts and caulking installed between 1950 and 1978 contain the now-banned PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which have been linked to cancer as well as endocrine, reproductive and immune disorders. Exposure in the womb has also been linked to learning disorders.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been warning for years that prolonged exposure to PCBs could result in long-term harm to students and teachers. Christina Giorgio, a staff attorney with NYLPI applauded the proposal, saying it would “not only protect children and staff from PCB exposure but also will save taxpayers millions of dollars in energy costs while reducing our City’s carbon footprint.”

Almost two years ago city officials announced the 10-year plan to remove the contaminated fixtures. While then-Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott called the city’s removal plan “aggressive,” parent advocates said the timeline wasn’t fast enough.

Regina Castro, parent of a child who went to P.S. 56 and now attends P.S. 77 in Brooklyn, said in a statement that it was “encouraging to parents like me that something might be done sooner rather than later.” Castro is a member of New York Communities for Change, which has been pushing for a faster removal timeline.

Liu – a potential candidate for mayor — said it was “mind boggling that the DOE would ignore the formal warnings issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about PCBs.”

The city’s department of Education, however, says that New York City is one of the few municipalities planning major remediation of the contaminated fixtures.

DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg told the Brooklyn Eagle last June, “In February 2011, the city announced its Comprehensive Plan to remove and replace all lighting fixtures within ten years in the 700 school buildings that currently have lighting fixtures with PCB ballasts. Our plan to replace light fixtures in these buildings is unprecedented compared to other cities, and PCBs are a nationwide issue.”

On Friday Judith Enck, Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, backed Liu’s plan. “The idea of utilizing new Green Apple bonds is an innovative and smart way to finance much needed energy efficiency improvements in public schools,” she said in a statement.

Labor representatives also applauded the proposal, saying it would safeguard the health of teachers, school custodians and other workers.

More than 772 school buildings have been targeted for remediation. Figures from the New York City School Construction Authority showed that the majority of the city’s schools — including roughly 70 percent of schools in Brooklyn — contain PCBs.

About half of the schools on the list were in Brooklyn, including P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights; P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights; P.S. 15 in Red Hook; Arts & Letters in Fort Greene; P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill; I.S. 98 Bay Academy in Bay Ridge; M.S. 51 in Park Slope; Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies; Khalil Gibran International Academy and hundreds more.

Besides protecting kids’ health, Liu said his plan would lower the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions and create 3,000 jobs.

Under the proposal, the estimated debt service would amount to $380 million through 2021; that cost, however, would be more than offset by an estimated $719 million in savings resulting from reduced energy consumption, lower interest rates, and federal subsidies for energy conservation.

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