Teachers at Brooklyn School Concerned PCB Exposure Made Them Sick

By Andrew Siff and Pei-Sze Cheng
|  Thursday, May 16, 2013  |  Updated 9:26 AM EDT
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The Department of Education has launched a plan to replace all light fixtures in the city's schools that contain the potentially dangerous chemicals known as PCBs by 2021. In the meantime, teachers at a Brooklyn elementary school are concerned exposure to the chemicals has made them sick. Andrew Siff reports.

The Department of Education has launched a plan to replace all light fixtures in the city's schools that contain the potentially dangerous chemicals known as PCBs by 2021. In the meantime, teachers at a Brooklyn elementary school are concerned exposure to the chemicals has made them sick. Andrew Siff reports.

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Teachers at a Brooklyn elementary school are concerned that potentially harmful chemicals known as PCBs, which are found in the school's light fixtures, are making them sick.

Since March, PCB has been found leaking from old ballasts and light fixtures on at least three occasions at P.S. 186 in Bensonhurst, resulting in evacuations of students and staff, according to the Department of Education.

Lorraine DeGorter, who has taught third grade at the school for the past eight years, said last fall she was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Syndrome, a virus that the Environmental Protection Agency has said is possibly linked to PCB exposure.

"There's PCBs leaking from light fixtures," DeGorter said. "I had double pneumonia, I was on a breathing machine."

DeGorter is one of a number of teachers at the school who believe they may have been made sick by exposure to PCBs.

According to Fordham University professor Joan Roberts, the light fixtures can be dangerous after they become old and break apart. Roberts believes most of the light fixtures in the city's schools should have been replaced 10 years ago to prevent PCB exposure.

The Department of Education has launched a plan to replace all the PCB light fixtures in the city's schools by 2021, and in recent weeks officials acknowledged that they’re fast-tracking that timetable. But the city maintains that all PCB leaks have been well below federal guidelines for health risks.

"If issues arise in any of our classrooms, facilities staff take the proper steps to ensure that staff and students are removed, an inspection is done and fixtures are replaced before it’s reopened for instruction," said Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.

The DOE said Wednesday that P.S. 186 would have its light fixtures replaced this summer.

In the meantime, some parents with students at the school say they're also growing concerned.

Felicia Valoy, whose daughter is in kindergarten at the school, said she pulled her child out of class Friday when the school was briefly evacuated and cleaned because of PCBs.

“I made the executive decision to take my daughter out," Valoy said. "We need to get this fixed.”

At a PTA meeting at the school on Wednesday night, parents aired their concerns, and the news that the old PCB light fixtures would be replaced this summer rather than in the fall, as was originally planned, didn't ease their worries. 

"I'm still scared, I don't feel like bringing her to school until it's taken care of," said Diljana Hajderlli, the mother of a kindergartner. 

About 90 parents, teachers and students participated in a rally Thursday morning.

-Katherine Creag contributed to this report

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