NYC to Remove Toxic Light Fixtures from Schools

Wednesday, Feb 23, 2011  |  Updated 11:15 PM EDT
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New York City has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to rid schools of PCBs. Andrew Siff has an inside look at the chemicals causing concern across all five boroughs.

WNBC

New York City has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to rid schools of PCBs. Andrew Siff has an inside look at the chemicals causing concern across all five boroughs.

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Aging light fixtures in hundreds of the city's public schools will be removed after spot tests showed PCB leaks, officials announced.

Mayor Bloomberg's administration said Wednesday that the city will spend $708 million over ten years to swap out the lighting in 772 schools.

Schools with the worst leaks will be done first, followed by schools built between 1950 and 1966, then schools built between 1967 and 1979.

Officials insist that the 1.1 million students in the public school system -- the largest in the nation --  face "no immediate health threat."

But the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been demanding the city do the work, after recent spot checks have found leaks in the fixtures. In some cases, samples showed PCBs that were thousands of times higher than allowable levels.

The EPA says exposure to PCBs can cause cancer and potential risks to the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems.

PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyl. Manufacture of the man-made chemical was banned in the 1970s, but many schools across the country that were built before that time are dealing with this problem.

PCBs are found in many types of products, including the ballasts used in fluorescent lighting fixtures. Ballasts control the current in an electrical circuit.

A group of elected officials, parents and advocates gathered Wednesday at City Hall to demand that the city move faster on the replacement work.

"Until now, the city has been dragging its feet, and inventing excuses for not implementing a swift program to remove the toxic ballasts and fixtures from the classrooms," said state Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal.

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