Crowley, Serrano Call on EPA to Issue Study Results and Recommendations on Treatment of PCBs in NYC Schools and Buildings

Aug 19, 2010 Issues: Education,

Washington, D.C. —On Wednesday, August 18, Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-Queens, The Bronx) and José E. Serrano (D-The Bronx) called on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to take further action to remediate the harm caused by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination in schools and other buildings.
 
“Our schools should be PCB-free zones,” said Congressman Crowley. “This why Congressman José Serrano and I have worked tirelessly to bring this issue to light and to help schools in New York, and around the country, obtain the resources they need to remove PCBs from the classroom. We will continue this fight until our schools are safe and parents can rest easy once again.”
 
“It is high time that we have all the information about potential PCB contamination in our schools,” said Congressman Serrano. “Joe Crowley and I have been working to get the EPA to take an active role in this, and we expect that they will do so. We cannot put our children at risk.”
 
Industrial chemicals that are no longer in use, such as PCBs, have been found to have harmful health effects, especially among children. In recent years, a number of schools in New York City, including several in the Bronx, were found to have PCB-laden window caulk. Following this discovery, the EPA and NYC Department of Education came to an agreement requiring New York City to proceed with a pilot study testing PCB contamination in five area-schools and produce a plan for remediation that can be applied citywide.
 
Crowley and Serrano have led efforts to help schools in New York City and throughout the country fund the cleanup of PCBs, particularly by allowing school modernization and renovation funds to be used for cleaning up PCBs. Last year, Crowley and Serrano secured language in the FY2010 Interior appropriations bill that instructed the EPA to study and issue recommendations for cleaning up PCB contamination in schools. The letter sent to the EPA is calling for an update on these instructions to study and the actions taken by EPA to address the danger of PCBs in schools.
 
The full text of the letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is below:  
 
 August 18, 2010
 
Lisa Jackson
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

 
Dear Administrator Jackson:

As you may be aware, concerns have been raised about the public health impacts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that were frequently used in window caulking in schools, public housing, hospitals and other public buildings beginning in the 1940s. In the Fiscal Year 2010 Interior appropriations legislation, Congress urged the EPA to take action to address the dangers of PCBs. We ask for an update as to what EPA actions have been taken to remediate the harm caused by PCBs, as well as what actions are anticipated in the near future to fulfill the requirements under P.L. 111-88. 
 
PCBs were widely used in building material until their manufacture was banned in the United States in 1977.  They were used particularly in colder climates, where they were added to make caulk more flexible. These chemicals are believed to cause cancer, neurological damage and hormonal disruption, and may be linked to Attention Deficit Disorder and learning disabilities.
 
This issue is of particular concern to the members of Congress from New York City, where seven out of ten schools tested had higher-than-acceptable levels of PCBs, including four in the Bronx alone. Evidence indicates that even more schools, hospitals and housing facilities may be at similar risk. We know you would agree that children should be absorbing knowledge, not hazardous waste.  It is vitally important that our children, constituents and our communities know that the presence of PCBs in schools and housing are not a threat to their health and safety.
 
Currently, the EPA’s regulations on the PCB problem only mandate that the presence of PCBs at a level greater than 50 parts per billion would cause the material to be considered “hazardous” waste that should be removed. However, at present there are no solid guidelines for testing or remediation, and experts disagree on the best steps to address PCBs found in buildings. Some believe that the pre-emptive removal of PCB-containing materials can be more harmful than keeping intact materials in place until they begin to deteriorate, while others assert that PCBs continue to cause their negative effects even if encased in building materials like caulk.  As a result, school and building administrators are unsure of the best way to ensure the safety of those in their buildings. The EPA must give them guidance by providing research-based methods for testing and remediation that will actually reduce the danger PCBs pose to our children, beyond just suggestions to avoid the danger.
 
For this reason, the following language dealing with PCBs was included in House Report 111-180 and continued in the Conference Report accompanying the Fiscal year 2010 Department of the Interior, Environment, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act (Conference Report  111-316 and P.L. 111-88):
 
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) Study.--The Committee is aware of concerns about the public health impacts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) frequently used in window caulking in schools, public housing, hospitals, and other public buildings from the 1940s to 1977. The Committee urges the Agency to investigate the potential adverse health and environmental impacts of PCBs, with a special focus on school populations, and to recommend testing protocols and remediation techniques to mitigate these effects.
 
The problem of PCBs is almost certain to be widespread across the country, and puts some of our most vulnerable populations at risk of adverse health effects. We must give our school, hospital and housing administrators the guidance they need to appropriately address this problem. That is why we ask that you provide us with an update on the EPA’s previous and planned actions to counter the problem of PCBs, and urge that you move quickly in taking steps to protect our communities from these dangerous chemicals.
 

 
Sincerely,

 

JOSEPH CROWLEY                                                  JOSÉ E. SERRANO
Member of Congress                                                    Member of Congress

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