NEW YORK (AP) - New York City has met a Dec. 31 deadline for removing hundreds of thousands of light fixtures containing the toxic chemicals known as PCBs from public schools, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.
The cleanup at 883 school buildings throughout the city was completed this month, agency regional administrator Judith Enck said. She said replacing the aging light fixtures protects children and staff members from potentially harmful carcinogens while also boosting energy efficiency by 30 to 50 percent.
“This is great not only from a public health perspective but also from an energy saving and climate change perspective,” Enck said.
New York City officials agreed to complete the PCB cleanup by Dec. 31, 2016, after first saying they needed until the end of 2021.
The administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to get a federal lawsuit over the timeline for replacing the light fixtures dismissed. After the judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit, the city agreed to the expedited cleanup schedule during mediation in 2013.
Enck said the last PCB-laden fixture was removed about 10 days ago.
“Once the city decided to do it, they did a good job,” she said. “It was just a real struggle to get them to do this.”
A spokesman for the city law department said the city worked hard to complete the upgrades and is “pleased to be at the forefront on the national initiative to address PCBs in historic building materials.”
Rachel Spector, the environmental justice program director for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which filed the lawsuit over the light fixtures on behalf of the advocacy group New York Communities for Change, called the removal of the PCB-contaminated fixtures “a huge achievement.” But Spector said her group is still working with the city to make sure all the PCB residue from the fixtures is cleaned up.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were widely used in electrical products and building materials before they were banned in the late 1970s. The EPA says the chemicals are probable carcinogens and can damage the nervous system, immune system, reproductive system and endocrine system.
Enck said that some of the light ballasts at city schools had started to leak over time, leading to elevated PCB levels in the air.
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