Parent Letter #17

posted Apr 6, 2011, 10:53 AM by Felicia Ippolito   [ updated Apr 6, 2011, 10:57 AM ]

February 18, 2011                                 


Dear Member of the School Community,


As you may know, the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in building materials is an emerging national issue. Between 1950 and 1979, PCBs were legally used in lighting fixture ballasts and building caulk in newly constructed and upgraded buildings, including schools. In 1978, the federal government banned the continued use of PCBs in building materials for new construction work but, until recently, has provided little guidance regarding how municipalities should identify and handle materials in existing buildings that may have higher PCB levels than permitted by law.  Even today, federal regulations allow intact PCB lighting ballasts to remain in use.


New York City is leading the way in understanding this issue and developing effective response actions to manage PCBs in a school environment.  Among other things, the City has entered into a pilot study program with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test for the presence of and remediate PCBs in five City school buildings and to determine the most effective ways to reduce potential exposures to PCBs in all schools. While the study is not yet complete, the early results appear to have identified lighting ballasts in older fluorescent lighting fixtures as a potential source of PCBs.  We have also found that although there is evidence that some older lighting ballasts have leaked oil containing PCBs within lighting fixtures, results from air samples in tested schools do not present an immediate health risk.  On December 29, 2010, the EPA issued a new national guidance document on this issue, and we are considering measures to implement the recommendations that were made. The national guidance document can be found here:


In addition to the pilot study program, the Department of Education (DOE) is looking at T-12 fluorescent lighting fixtures in our school buildings which may be associated with PCB ballasts.  Last month, the DOE required its custodial staff to visually inspect all T-12 style lighting fixtures contained in schools buildings to check for leaking PCB ballasts.  Your school is in a building where leaking PCB ballasts were observed in one or more locations. 


For each leaking ballast reported, immediate corrective action will be taken by the end of the Winter Break (Monday, February 28, 2011) by DOE facilities staff.  All lighting fixtures will also be removed and replaced in the 23 schools buildings by the end of this calendar year.  For the remainder of the approximately 700 school buildings that have T-12 fixtures, the DOE is in the process of developing and implementing a citywide plan to address the removal and remediation needs at these buildings.


It is important to emphasis that the presence of leaking PCB ballasts in our school building does not pose an immediate health risk to the students and staff and there is no need to close schools because of this issue.  Research has shown that schools with leaking ballasts did not have air levels of PCBs that provide an immediate health risk for students and staff.  This is confirmed by doctors from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in a recent New York Times article on PCBs.  They said, “PCBs at the levels found in most schools in New York City today will not make any child or any teacher acutely ill.  In fact, compared with air levels reported in some other studies, air levels reported in NYC schools have been quite low. Therefore, in this particular instance we would say certainly send your child to school. The benefits of going to school far outweigh any risk from PCBs in the school environment.” The link to this discussion is


Representatives of the DOE, the School Construction Authority (SCA), and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) can appear at a mutually convenient evening session at our request to discuss the removal of leaking PCB ballasts in our school building.





M. Biondollilo