Possible PCB Risks in Schools across the Nation

Posted on Thursday 6th January 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency is urging schools across the nation to replace their aging light fixtures due to possible chemical leaks.

The concern is that the manmade substance polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) may be leaking from aging ballasts in the light fixtures of schools. If these fixtures remain in use, the levels of PCB that the children breathe may reach dangerous levels. The EPA is recommending that these older fixtures be replaced to prevent exposure to students, teachers, and other personnel through fires or leaks.

These recommendations come after a study of three schools in New York City contained many fixtures with leaks in their ballasts. The EPA is also assisting schools in Oregon, North Dakota, and Massachusetts in testing leaking ballasts.

According to the EPA, schools built before 1979 are their main targets for concern, however schools built through 1998 should also check their light fixtures for leaks. Congress banned the manufacturing of PCB in 1977 because of its toxic effects. The EPA followed in suit in 1979 and banned the use of PCB in 1979, unless it is being used in totally enclosed equipment. However, many fluorescent light ballasts that were installed prior to these bans may contain PCB and may still be in use in U.S. schools.

We all have small levels of PCB in our body, however it is once these levels reach a critical point that it can cause damages. The affects of high PCB exposure are not immediate, however there is significant risk in waiting. When the chemical is released into the air it affects the immune system, reproductive system, and if gone untreated can cause cancer in humans.

There are many risks and potential costs of not replacing the PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts in a school. The most immediate threat is the risk of a leak or fire without any warning. A leak or fire poses severe health risks to anyone who is exposed. The financial costs can be severe as well. According to the EPA if a ballast leaks:

· Teachers and students must be relocated until decontamination of affected area is complete.

· Special qualified cleanup personnel must be hired to handle decontamination

· Analytical testing of contaminated equipment and surfaces for PCBs;

· Compliance with environmental regulations for proper storage and disposal of contaminated equipment and cleanup materials;

· Retesting of equipment and surfaces to ensure that they are free of PCBs and other contaminants; and

· Replacement of leaking or burned fixtures and any other contaminated materials.

The Mayor’s Office of NYC calculated that it would cost $1 billion to replace the light fixtures in its buildings across the City. Upset about being singled out, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott is asking the EPA to recommend that all private, public, and government buildings also replace their light fixtures. After the new findings were released, New York lawmakers also began to put the pressure on the City to remedy the situation.

If the EPA begins to widen their testing efforts, schools and many buildings across the nation could be facing forced fixture replacements.

For information on lighting upgrades and fixture replacements, click here

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