Old lighting fixtures in schools can contribute to poor IAQ.

PCBs and bad indoor air quality has long been considered a problem in schools, brought about by contaminated light fixtures.

Tests in New York City schools had revealed that old lighting ballasts — devices that regulate electric current for fluorescent lights — leaked PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) onto the light fixtures and floors.

PCBs are toxic chemical compounds that have been linked to cancer. EPA issued recommendations in December urging schools across the country to replace all of the old light fixtures as soon as possible.

But it turns out that PCBs are not the only problem. NYC’s Department of Education said in a recent article that the hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures it plans to replace in the city’s schools because they contain PCBs are also contaminated with asbestos.

Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm told a City Council committee hearing that inspectors found asbestos that was used to insulate the problematic fixtures while examining them for signs of leaking PCBs. “Asbestos comes with its own special rules and containment procedures,” said Grimm of the cancer-causing material.

“Asbestos comes with its own special rules and containment procedures.”
— Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm

She said it can only be removed on weekends and holidays, not evenings “because we have to actually contain the area, and make sure that we’re removing it properly and disposing of it properly.”

This new problem will slow down the “quick action plan” that was sought to replace the PCB-leaking lighting fixtures. In fact, Grimm said it will take the city up to 10 years to remove and replace all of the lighting fixtures with PCBs from the public schools. Almost 800 schools have contaminated lighting fixtures.

The city has estimated its 10-year plan will cost $850 million. Quinn suggested that contractors might be able to do the job for less money as they make the city’s lighting and heating fixtures more energy efficient.

Grimm told council members that companies will be invited to submit their bids after a Request for Proposals is issued in June. But she repeated that the EPA is “underestimating the complexity of performing work of this type in school buildings.”

The group New York Communities for Change filed notice that it intends to sue under the federal toxic substances control act if the city doesn’t update its PCB removal plans.

The group also wants teachers and other union members to be more involved in the process, said Miranda Massie of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who’s representing the group.

Source: WNYC

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