Hundreds of city schools in the five boroughs are contaminated with PCB, a toxic material that can cause serious health problems, and hundreds more school may also have the substance. Department of Education officials say they are working as hard as it can to fix the problem but critics say it's not hard enough. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following exclusive report.
At 245 city schools, in 149 buildings, a toxic compound known as polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, has been leaking from the ceilings. Staff members reported actually seeing these leaks just by looking up at the lights.
The list of schools was posted online last week by the Department of Education. Of the schools with reported PCB leaks, two-thirds are in Brooklyn.
Officials say they have cleaned up all visible leaks and there is no cause for alarm.
"We certainly do not think there is any threat to the health of any of our children under this timetable," said Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm.
Many elected officials say the clean-up timetable is the problem. After coming under intense pressure over the past two years, the DOE has started to act, but says it will take 10 years to clear PCBs out of all city schools.
"Their 10-year remediation plan is totally unacceptable for everyone I know. Even the United States EPA has said that is totally a unrealistic timeframe," said Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson.
PCBs were used as electrical insulation in construction between 1929 and 1979, leaving 738 current school buildings likely contaminated. Officials say they have cleaned up just 72 buildings so far.
Meanwhile, they are asking custodial staff to look-up and check for visible leaks. The DOE says it is prioritizing the 149 buildings where those leaks have been reported.
Advocates say that is not enough.
"The problem with this, is it's a problem with the overall protocol. We know the majority of the lights that are leaking through the 650-odd school buildings are not visibly noticeable," says Cristina Giorgio of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
When leaking lights are discovered, parents are supposed to get a letter from the Department of Education. But At P.S. 282 in Brooklyn, which is on the list, parents told NY1 on Monday that they never heard about the PCBs.
Exposure to PCBs can affect the nervous and immune systems, but the DOE says it believes no students or staff members are in danger.