Toxic Schools: DOE deemed 'noncompliant' in PCB mess

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 5/11/2012, 1:41 p.m.

Parents of New York City schoolchildren and school activists praised the City Council for deeming the Department of Education (DOE) noncompliant with laws regarding checking light fixtures for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) and New York Communities for Change (NYCC) issued a statement thanking the council and criticizing the DOE.

"NYLPI and NYCC applaud City Council for citing the DOE's noncompliance with Local Law 68 and for demanding assurances that the DOE will comply with the law," read the statement. "Parents have a right to know whether their children are being exposed to PCBs and to understand the steps the DOE is taking to address the problem."

According to the NYCC and the NYPLI, Local Law 68 obligates the DOE to notify parents at schools with PCB-containing lights that these lights will be removed, state the reasons for the removal and provide a schedule for when said removal would occur.

"Inexcusably, the DOE has failed to comply with Local Law 68's mandates," read the joint statement. "This month, the DOE sent notification letters that left parents confused and angry. As noted by City Council, the DOE failed to provide parents with meaningful information regarding why the PCB lights were being removed and when the school will be remediated. Instead, the DOE generically told parents that it plans to remove the lights 'at some point during the next nine years.' "

Last summer, the NYLPI filed a lawsuit against the DOE and School Construction Authority (SCA) accusing them of not reacting fast enough to the news that thousands of light fixtures in New York City public schools are leaking toxic PCBs, which put children and school staff in danger and violates the law. According to the NYLPI, PCBs have been linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and attention deficiencies.

Last week, the AmNews reported that DOE and SCA filed a motion to dismiss the complaint entirely on the grounds that affidavit should be filed by a parent (or someone) from each individual school that claims to have PCBs in its light fixtures.

The NYCC directed the AmNews to a recent report about new research from UC Davis and Washington State University showing that PCBs launch a cellular chain of events leading to an overabundance of dendrites, filament-like projections that conduct electrochemical signals between neurons and disrupts normal patterns of neuronal connections in the brain.

"Dendrite growth and branching during early development is a finely orchestrated process, and the presence of certain PCBs confuses the conductor of that process," Pamela Lein, a developmental neurobiologist and professor of molecular biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. "Impaired neuronal connectivity is a common feature of a number of conditions, including autism spectrum disorders."

When the AmNews contacted the DOE, a spokesperson said, "We feel we are in compliance and will meet with Council members to discuss their concerns."