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Education Officials Vow To Fix PCB Problem At Staten Island School

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P.S. 36 on Staten Island was open on Monday but many classrooms were anything but full, as parents stood outside demanding it be closed because of a potential health hazard that could be an issue in schools across the city. NY1’s Kristen Shaughnessy filed the following report.

Dozens of parents gathered outside P.S. 36 early Monday and refused to let their children go into the school.

They want written proof that it is safe after potentially dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls were found inside the school last week because of leaking light fixtures.

The attendance rate at P.S. 36 was only 24.9 percent on Monday, according to the Department of Education.

"I'm going to keep her out until the truant officer tells me I have to send her back to school or unless test results come back and say the school is safe to go in,” said parent Ellen Ambrose.

"I'm a retired firefighter and I know they don't always come out and tell you the truth,” said parent John Mucciola. “We are not asking them to shut down the school. We are asking them to make sure it is safe."

Even an hour-long, closed-door meeting with Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm did not do much to calm angry parents.

“They had no answers for us,” said parent Danette Albetta. “There weren’t any answers. They had no statistics. They didn't have anybody here who was actually working and could give us facts.”

Parents tell NY1 that they plan to rally again outside the school on Tuesday morning.

Elevated PCB levels were found last week, after a teacher expressed concern that her classroom had been contaminated by a leaking light fixture.

A swipe test of the floor inside two classrooms revealed levels were well above federal government safety standards. The lighting ballasts were removed over the weekend, according to the School Construction Authority.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said the classrooms where PCBs were found will remain closed until the problem is fixed.

Parents and officials at the meeting said there was another leaking light fixture right where the meeting was held.

“I was told yesterday, eyeball to eyeball, that a visual inspection was done of all these fixtures and it has not been done because there are still leaking fixtures,” said Sam Pirozzolo, president of Community Education Council District 31. “We also found leaking fixtures in the cafeteria and maybe some in the food prep area.”

Pirozzolo and City Councilman Vincent Ignizio did say that some progress had been made.

“As of this weekend we weren't changing lights, but now we are doing a wholesale inspection of this building and the annex,” said Ignizio. “Anything that is leaching PCBs will be removed."

P.S. 36 will remain open.

Officials estimate there are about 740 schools citywide that could have the same problem because of old light fixtures. They were built in the 1950s through 1970s, before Congress banned PCBs. Lighting fixtures from that time period had ballasts that contained PCBs.

The Environmental Protection Agency has began inspecting classrooms in other schools.

Now the Department of Education has to work with the EPA and the Department of Health to address any potential issues.

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