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Harlem School Evacuated After Light Fixture Starts Smoking In Classroom

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TWC News: Harlem School Evacuated After Light Fixture Starts Smoking In Classroom
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A light fixture emitting smoke in a classroom in a Harlem school sent nine students and two adults to the hospital Tuesday, prompting DOE officials to also conduct a test to determine if the classroom was contaminated with PCBs. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

At around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, an alarm went off in the Harlem school building housing P.S./I.S. 123 and Harlem Success Academy 5. Nearly 1,000 students had to get out quickly.

A light fixture in a third-floor classroom had begun smoking. It's one of hundreds of school buildings where lights contain dangerous chemicals known as PCBs.

Ambulances took nine students and two teachers to Harlem Hospital because they were in the room with the leak.

PCB experts said this is the first incident they're aware of where students and teachers were taken to the hospital after exposure.

Parents said they want all the light fixtures replaced immediately.

"That's got to go, because that's ridiculous," said one parent. "My child, he's a baby. If anything happens to him, I'm going to lose it."

The New York City Department of Education said it immediately contacted the parents of the students taken to the hospital.

Other parents were given a form letter at the end of the day, a legal requirement after a leak. The letter did not mention that students and teachers were taken to the hospital.

Several parents said they were upset that they weren't called as soon as the building was evacuated.

"This is the second time that something actually happened in the school that they did not actually inform the parents," said a parent of a student at P.S. 123. "As a parent, the parents should know what's going on with their kids inside a school building."

This is at least the fifth leak in this building. In April, there was a leak in a second-floor classroom.

The school is already on the DOE's list of those with the highest priority to have all of the lights replaced, but there are hundreds of school buildings with the same top priority.

PCBs were banned in 1979 after experts found exposure affects the nervous and immune systems. The city has agreed to replace all of the light fixtures in schools, but the mayor said it will take until 2021.

A group of parents has sued, saying the 10-year plan is too long. The city tried to have the case dismissed, but in late March, a judge ruled the case should go forward, saying that cognitive development of children is at stake.

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