The city is working to remove light fixtures containing PCBs from schools before the toxic compounds leak out, but NY1 has learned that the number of schools reporting leaks is increasing. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
A strange smell filled a first-grade classroom at P.S. 242 in Harlem Monday. Students and teachers fled to the cafeteria, while a custodian confirmed the culprit: toxic compounds known as PCBs were leaking from a smoking light fixture. Two other light fixtures in the room were also leaking.
These weren't the first leaks at P.S. 242. Six others have been reported.
The school is already on the Department of Education's list of high priority buildings for every light fixture to be changed, but so are hundreds of other schools.
Parents are concerned.
"This is just as important as maybe a drill for a Sandy Hook shooting or something," said Frederick Patterson, a parent of a student at the school. "I think that's just as important because it's just as harmful. Basically, it's just more and more like a slow poison."
The compounds were banned in 1979 after experts found exposure affects the nervous and immune systems, but PCBs were already in the electrical insulation at 739 city school buildings.
Under intense pressure from parents and the Environmental Protection Agency, the city has agreed to replace all of the light fixtures in those schools, but the mayor said it will take until 2021.
DOE officials said that when leaks are discovered, those light fixtures are replaced immediately. They claim that PCBs that don't leak out aren't dangerous. But new data shows that more and more schools are discovering leaks.
Last March, NY1 reported that leaks had been found in 245 city schools that share 149 buildings. Eleven months later, 366 schools, in 207 buildings, have reported PCB leaks.
In addition, the leaks are happening much faster than the old fixtures are being replaced. While 20 school buildings have had all their light fixtures replaced since last March, 78 other buildings have reported their first leak.
One parent, Suzy Constantine, is so worried about the effects of PCBs that she pulled her 7-year-old son out of P.S. 242 and is home schooling him.
"I believe parents should be proactive with their children's lives," Constantine said.
New York Lawyers for Public Interest are representing parents in an ongoing lawsuit against the city, challenging the speed that PCBs are being removed. They said that the 10-year plan is too long.
Across the city, 92 school buildings have had all of their PCB fixtures replaced since July 2011. That leaves 647 buildings still to go.