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Parents call for city to come clean on environmental hazards in schools

Gary Schoichet

Chanting “No more PCBs!,” dozens of parents, concerned community members, labor leaders and federal, state and city elected officials packed the steps of City Hall for a Sept. 7 press conference hammering the city for its poor handling of a series of recent environmental crises in city schools and demanding faster action and greater transparency in similar situations in the future.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew did not mince words as he addressed the crowd, blasting the mayor and the Department of Education for withholding information about a school, PS 51 in the Bronx, found to be contaminated with the toxin trichloroethylene, or TCE.

The city discovered the presence of the dangerous chemical, similar to PCBs in its effect on children’s nervous systems and brain development, in January but failed to take any action or inform parents or staff until August. The students and staff were relocated to a new building in September.

“Every parent, every person who works in a school has the right to know if that site is safe,” Mulgrew said. “We will help if there is a problem, but nobody can do anything if the problem is being hidden.”

Mulgrew also faulted the DOE for the length of time it is taking to test schools for the presence of PCBs and remove the lighting fixtures containing the chemicals when found, a process the city says could take as long as 10 years.

Joined by his congressional colleagues Joseph Crowley of Queens, Jose Serrano of the Bronx and Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan, Manhattan Rep. Jerry Nadler also took aim at the city’s failure to inform parents of the health risks that their children face in city schools.

“Tomorrow is the first day back at school for New York’s public schoolchildren, and the city has failed to inform thousands of parents that their kids may be attending schools that are contaminated with PCBs,” the congressman said. “The city must promptly and comprehensively remediate our schools and, in the meantime, inform parents about health risks.”

Michelle Chapman, a parent and member of New York Communities for Change, which co-hosted the press conference with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said she recently transferred her 10-year-old out of a school contaminated with PCBs only to find that the child’s new school is also contaminated.

“We are asking Mayor Bloomberg to make parents aware” of the situation, she said. “We have the right to know so we can decide if we want our children to attend these schools.”

One of the numerous local politicians in attendance, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. challenged the mayor to share what he knows about the presence of toxins in city schools.

“On this gray dreary day, we want to shine some sunlight on Mayor Bloomberg’s dark little secret,” Diaz said. “Mr. Mayor, we don’t just want you to test schools. We want you to tell us the results.”

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