On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected New York City’s plan to remove all PCB-tainted light fixtures over the next ten years. The agency originally praised the city for creating a full scale removal plan, but now the EPA is pushing for a speedier and more comprehensive approach to removing the toxic lights. In an interview with the New York Times, Judith Enck, the regional EPA administrator in New York, said that ten years is too long.
“From our inspections, we’ve found that there’s a problem with leaking light ballasts,” she said, “and I’d be concerned with the problem lingering for a long period of time.” Exactly how much shorter the timeline should be is still being discussed with the city. On Friday, members of the City Council called a press conference to discuss the issue. Out of 51 council members, 41 signed a letter that was sent to Enck asking her to insist that the lights be removed within two years.
Replacing contaminated fixtures has been a pressing issue for the city since the EPA started spot checking ballasts last fall. Testing revealed a widespread PCB contamination problem throughout the school system. If they do not properly address the problem, the city could face civil penalties.
Under the city’s plan, schools with visually apparent leaks would be the first to have their fixtures replaced. Janitors were asked to do spot inspections and report any problems to city officials. Enck criticized this approach and said that she does not believe the janitors are looking carefully enough. She cited P.S. 306 in Bushwick as an example. Spot tests at P.S. 306 by the EPA revealed the school to have the highest possible level of leaking PCBs, yet the school did not appear on the lists of buildings with reported problems.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education told the Times that the DOE is standing by its original 10-year plan. She said the department believes it is the most fiscally responsible.