Report reveals there no federal or state requirement for inspection for and testing of PCBs; Senator plans legislation, calls on EPA to update regulations, conduct nationwide survey of all schools for hazards and develop guidance for recordkeeping and remediation of toxic chemicals

Washington (October 5, 2016) - Up to 14 million students nationwide, representing nearly 30 percent of America’s school-aged population may be exposed to toxic chemicals called PCBs in their schools. That’s just one finding from Senator Edward J. Markey’s (D-Mass.) new report “The ABC’s of PCBs: A Toxic Threat to America’s Schools”, which details the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a class of man-made chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems, that are found in school building materials and equipment across the country. The report details how children in schools across the country may be unknowingly exposed to PCBs, that there are generally no requirements for schools to do testing or inspections to ensure PCB exposures aren’t happening, and that even when exposure is identified, reporting and remediation of PCB hazards are inconsistent and often ineffective. The report includes case studies from California, Massachusetts and New York on school districts that have identified PCB hazards in local schools.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned PCB production and most uses in 1979, but that means students attending schools built or retrofitted between 1950 and 1979 may still be at risk of exposure from PCBs that were already there before the ban went into effect. A list provided by the EPA to Senator Markey of 286 cases of potential PCB hazards in schools demonstrates that the primary pathways of PCB contamination are caulk and leaking fluorescent light ballasts.

“The alarm bells going off in our schools should be for the potential risk that toxic PCBs pose to our students and teachers,” said Senator Markey, top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight. “We need to know the full extent of this toxic threat in our classrooms so that we can test for PCBs, remediate it and inform families that their students may be at risk of exposure to these dangerous chemicals.   

“In the coming months, I will be introducing legislation requiring schools to inspect and test for PCBs, both now and after potential remediation projects, as well as require the notification of students, parents, teachers, and employees of potential PCB hazards in schools. I will also introduce legislation to provide federal assistance for projects to inspect for and remove PCB hazards from schools.”

A copy of Senator Markey’s report, “The ABC’s of PCBs: A Toxic Threat to America’s Schools”, can be found HERE.

Key findings from Senator Markey’s report include:

  • The scope of PCB hazards in U.S. schools is likely widespread, potentially affecting up to 30 percent of the school-aged population, but it is difficult to quantify the exposure from the variety of potential sources of PCBs.
  • Because there is no federal requirement for the inspection of schools for PCB hazards and in most cases no state-level requirements or even publicly-available guidance for testing or inspections for PCB hazards, schools often appear to learn of PCB hazards by chance, and it is likely that additional cases of PCB hazards remain undetected. 
  • There is a lack of transparency and inconsistent communication between schools with a potential PCB hazard, the EPA, states, and those who may be affected by a PCB hazard in a school.
  • The way each EPA region handles enforcement activities and communication with schools and local educational agencies within the region is inconsistent, and there is variability in the way each EPA region keeps track of potential PCB hazards in schools.
  • Failures to fully remediate PCB hazards have occurred in cases of schools following EPA guidance, raising questions about the adequacy of such guidance.
  • Many states and local education agencies do not have the funds necessary to perform testing, response to or remediation of PCBs in schools.

“The report by Sen. Markey confirms what I and many other parents around the country have worried and warned about for years,” said supermodel and spokesperson for the non-profit America Unites for Kids Cindy Crawford, whose concerns prompted her to pull her two children from Malibu High School. “Millions of our students are likely spending significant hours each week inside classrooms that expose them to extremely toxic chemicals that could cause serious health problems for them. Unfortunately, as these findings show and by our own personal experience in Malibu, the government agencies have very little information or answers for parents and teachers. Schools and classrooms should be healthy places where our kids are safe and able to flourish, not environments that could put them at risk.”