Starting Wednesday, the Department of Education is going to immediately replace each and every lighting fixture at P.S. 41 in New Dorp, Staten Island, after a light containing PCBs leaked onto a student there last week. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following exclusive report.
Last Thursday, Gabriella Sferrazza was just another student, putting on her favorite dress and going to school for the first day of the year.
But by dismissal, she was in the nurse's office, wearing different clothes.
Her fifth-grade classmates were in the library and their classroom, still filled with new bookbags, lunch boxes and jackets, was sealed off.
That afternoon, dangerous compounds, known as PCBs, leaked out of a light ballast and landed directly on Gabriella.
The Department of Education said she may be the first student this ever happened to.
"I was doing my work and I looked up and all I see was liquid pouring down onto my skin," Gabriella said.
"We really should not even be touching this dress right now," said Salvador Sferrazza, Gabriella's father. "It was her favorite outfit. You can't wear it no more."
PS 41 on Staten Island is one of hundreds of city schools with light ballasts containing the compounds. But parents were shocked to hear they'd leaked on a student.
"It hit the child, then it hit the table, then it hit the floor," said parent Camille Haralambidis.
The teachers and principal immediately removed the children, contacted all parents and called a meeting with education officials, while families threatened to keep all children home if the whole school was not cleared.
"All the parents who came out were basically concerned about the safety of the children," said parent Antony Imbriolo.
The DOE has now agreed to replace all the light ballasts in the building, starting Wednesday night.
"Parents really did what they had to do," said Sam Pirozzolo of the Staten Island Community Education Council. "They stepped up to the plate. They fought with the DOE."
PS 41 moved to the top of a very long list. Yhere are more than 700 schools citywide with PCB ballasts, which were banned in 1979.
Under intense pressure, the DOE agreed to replace them all but says the $700 million project will take a decade. A group of parents is suing, saying it should happen much quicker.
Parents said their biggest frustration is that they were unable to get a straight, clear answer from school and health officials on the question they say matters the most: will this hurt their children?
That's because there is no consensus on just how dangerous PCBs are. Exposure can effect the nervous and immune systems and has caused cancer in animals.
"Who knows," Salvador Sferrazza said. "In two months' time, she might get a reaction to this. It's very concerning when they don't even have the answers for you."