Activists rejoice as city shortens PCB timeline (38733)

Now, New York City’s children can get out of harm’s way in a quicker manner.

Last week, New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and legal representatives from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) and White & Case reached a settlement with the city of New York to cut its 10-year timeline down to five for removing toxic light fixtures from New York City’s public schools. The settlement now requires the city to remove all lights that contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) by Dec. 31, 2016, or in three and a half years.

“The city’s new timeline for PCB light removal is considerably more reasonable than the previous plan of 10 years,” NYCC member Celia Green said in a statement. “Parents like me will rest easier with the knowledge that at long last the city has made the removal of PCB lights from our kids’ schools a priority. I’m thrilled that because NYCC and our coalition partners spoke up and demanded action on this issue, future parents won’t have to worry about the effects of PCB exposure when they send their kids to school in New York City.”

In June 2011, NYLPI and its co-counsel White & Case brought litigation on behalf of NYCC in an attempt to force the Department of Education and School Construction Authority to shorten the proposed 10-year timeline for removing contaminated light fixtures, which were found in over 750 public school buildings.

Late last year, the AmNews reported on a document released by 32BJ and Local 94 International Union of Operating Procedures that pointed to problems in the city’s public schools, and PCBs were one of the top reasons the report cited as an issue that needs to be resolved. The report stated that close to 70 percent of schools have light ballasts or caulk that likely contain PCBs, which are banned toxins known to cause cancer and damage neurological and cognitive development in children.

Christina Giorgio, a staff attorney with NYLPI, said in a statement that kids’ health should be a priority if you want to them to learn.

“This settlement is a real victory for New York City parents, students and schools staff, as in three and a half years, our public schools will finally be free of these toxic PCB light fixtures,” said Giorgio. “This case has always been about getting children and staff out of harm’s way. The new aggressive timeline will ensure that this happens as quickly and safely as possible.”

While many activists are happy with the new developments, New Yorkers for Great Public Schools spokeswoman Zakiyah Ansari wanted to remind everyone that the city didn’t change the timeline out of the kindness of their hearts.

“Mayor Bloomberg did not just wake up one day and decide to ditch the controversial 10-year timeline that puts the health of students and teachers at risk,” said Ansari in an emailed statement. “It took an aggressive, multi-year court battle waged by community groups and far too many bursting toxic lights in schools for the mayor to finally concede. Mayor Bloomberg has effectively delayed PCB removal so long that it is no longer his problem. He has passed the buck of the removal of PCBs onto the next mayor.

“The PCB fiasco is a lesson for the next mayor: Local communities need to be listened to and engaged better by City Hall; they shouldn’t have to file lawsuits to be heard,” concluded Ansari.

New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu said he’s been working on the financing to help the city speed up the timeline before the ruling.

“The settlement of this suit through the city’s agreement to an accelerated timeline for ridding our schools of toxic PCBs is a win all around,” said Liu in a statement. “We stand ready to work with City Hall to finance the capital projects necessary with Green Apple Bonds, which would pay for the rapid cleanup of these chemicals while saving taxpayers $339 million and lowering the city’s carbon footprint. Now is the time.”