Concerns that almost city 800 school buildings may contain toxic chemicals known as PCBs led parents to pack a City Council hearing Wednesday, but the final timeline for the Department of Education's clean-up plans remained elusive. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
City Council members and members of the public met Wednesday to discuss the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls in schools. PCBs were used as insulation during the 1960s and 1970s. Congress banned them when it was found they could cause cancer, and now almost 800 city schools now need their lighting fixtures replaced.
The city recently agreed to do that, after significant pressure from parents, advocates and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"This is a serious situation, and having PCBs in schools, clearly they need to be removed," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The Department of Education says the clean-up will take 10 years, but there are no answers as to how dangerous the PCBs are in the meantime.
"The 10-year timeframe outlined in the plan is our most aggressive estimate of when work can be completed, based on current understanding and the unprecedented nature and scale of the project," said Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm.
This effort is unprecedented because the city will be the first to ever attempt such a wholesale PCB removal project. Experts and officials admitted nobody really knows how long it will take.
The EPA, advocates, and City Council members are not buying the 10-year plan.
"I've said loud and clear, 10 years is totally unacceptable to every parent in the school system," said Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson.
"The community really needs to get involved, to push the mayor to come down on this plan of 10 years, which is completely ridiculous," said Miranda Massie of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
DOE officials said leaking PCBs will be removed immediately. They argued the project will take a decade because of cost, having to work when school is out, and because they plan to fix several problems at once, including removing asbestos and replacing boilers that burn dirty oil.
City Council members and the EPA are pushing for a five-year plan, but New York Lawyers for the Public Interest think it could take just two years. They filed papers Wednesday, saying they will sue if the DOE does not hurry up.