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Judge Hears Arguments Regarding City's Plan To Clean Up Toxins In Schools

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City officials say hundreds of city school buildings are safe, but some parents and advocates say they're toxic. NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ reports on how the two sides made their case in court Friday.

Light fixtures in 640 city school buildings contain toxic chemicals known as PCBs. It's something the Department of Education has agreed to clean-up, under pressure from parents and advocates.

The city's plan calls for replacing leaking lights immediately, and of the lights eventually, over the course of a decade.

And it's that "eventually" that landed them in court Friday, facing a lawsuit demanding a quicker cleanup.

"Ten years is simply too long to be exposing students and teachers to toxic PCBs," says Cristina Giorgio of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

But city lawyers asked the court to dismiss the case entirely. They say the organization bringing the suit, New York Communities for Change, has no legal standing in the case. They also say that damages can't be proved, and that all 640 schools can't be lumped together.

They say that DOE officials are "already going beyond their legal obligations to thoroughly address the issue of PCBs" with an $844 million clean-up plan.

"They kept going with the issues of the law: 'Well by law, we don't have to inspect them. We don't have to change them unless there is something wrong,'" said one New York Communities for Change member after the court appearance. "But you are forgetting about who it is affecting: the children in the classrooms."

City officials say school custodians are replacing any leaking fixtures they see. But the advocates say most leaks are hidden behind part of the light fixture and can't be seen.

The judge, Cheryl Pollak, told the city's lawyers that their limited inspection suggests there could be far more leaks than have already been found.

"Like the judge said, there may be some leaks that you're not able to see yet," said parent Maria Maisonet. "I thought they were pretty careless, and I was glad she caught them in every mistake they made."

"I think the judge was very much in favor of New York Communities for Change," said student Joanna Alvarez.

But while families and advocates say they're encouraged by the questions the judge had for the city, the judge didn't immediately decide whether to allow the case to move forward.

To this point, visible leaks have already been discovered in 249 schools.

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