Attendance at PS 36 in Annadale rebounds as NYC Department of Education responds to PCB concerns

Andrew J Lanza

January 14, 2011

Staten Island Advance - Friday, January 14, 2011

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The city Department of Education surpassed protesting parents’ expectations at PS 36 this week in taking sound measures to ensure the school’s light fixtures are free of chemical toxins.

Every light ballast in the school will be replaced in the coming days after hundreds of parents kept their children home from school once polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were detected in leaky light fixtures in two classrooms.

Also, after attention was raised on the issue at the Annadale school this week, the city has issued a directive for light ballasts to be inspected at all city public schools.

“The activism of the parents and staff that were involved in this movement over the past two weeks really did provide for safer, healthier schools for all children and teachers in every school in the city, and that’s something to be proud of,” said City Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore).

PCBs are manmade chemicals that were commonly used in construction materials between 1950 and 1978, when they were banned.

Wipe and air samples taken in the two PS 36 classrooms this week had results well below the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s standards, said Margie Feinberg, a DOE spokeswoman.

Word apparently has started to spread: About 59 percent of children were back in school yesterday, compared to about 11 percent on Wednesday and 26 percent the day before.

“Would I have sent my child to the school on Monday? No,” Ignizio said. “Would I send my child back today and tomorrow and going forward? Yes, I would. I have faith in the work that’s being done and that the school is far cleaner than it’s ever been.”

In the past, the EPA and the DOE have clashed in removing PCBs from schools. While the EPA wanted the DOE to be more proactive, the city cited cost as a major hindrance, estimating that remediation would cost about $1 billion.

Earlier this week, however, a directive was issued to custodians in all schools to check all light ballasts and fill out work requests for leaky ones to be replaced.