Aging light fixtures in New York City schools leaking PCBs

Inspections have revealed that elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are leaking from aging light fixtures in many New York City public schools. HSPH’s Robert Herrick, senior lecturer on industrial hygiene, spoke to the Wall Street Journal on February 14, 2011 about PCBs and their use in schools.

Banned in the 1970s, PCBs have been linked to cancer and other health problems. Fluorescent light fixtures commonly used in schools constructed during the mid-20th century contain PCBs. According to New York City officials, the fixtures pose no immediate health threat; however, the Environmental Protection Agency is urging that all fixtures containing PCBs be removed.

“I would say there is a considerable urgency in the likelihood, as time passes, of a catastrophic failure [of the light fixtures],” Herrick told the Journal. “You could easily have extensive contamination in the room and throughout the entire building.”

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HSPH Department of Environmental Health