Tracking down toxins in schools

Parents, teachers and others from Malibu to Massachusetts are grappling with what to do about toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools. These chemicals—which are associated with ills including cancer, endocrine disorders, and reproductive troubles—were used in window caulk and other sealants in an estimated one-third of schools built between the early 1950s and the late 1970s, when Congress phased out the chemical’s use.

In spite of the ban, PCBs linger in many older schools. In Malibu, students and teachers developed health issues such as thyroid problems, migraines, asthma, and rashes that many believe are related to PCB exposure, leading to a protracted battle involving school administrators, public officials, parents, and teachers.

A decade ago, Robert Herrick, senior lecturer on industrial hygiene at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, helped uncover high PCB levels in sealants at a number of schools in Boston; his published research on the topic led to the discovery of more such schools in New York and elsewhere. Said Herrick in a March 27, 2015 article, “If you’ve got buildings full of developing humans who are susceptible to these disruptive chemicals, how can you not be persuaded that you need to reduce that source of exposure?”

Read the article: The Toxic Schools of Malibu…and New York…and Lexington, Mass.,…and Maybe Your Town Too

Learn more

Aging light fixtures in New York City schools leaking PCBs (Harvard Chan news)

Environmental health news: PCBs in schools (Harvard Chan news)