Thursday, December 29, 2016

BRAVO for the City of New York for replacing lighting fixtures containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 883 New York City public school buildings.

EPA Commends the City of New York for Removing PCB Lighting
Health of Children and Teachers in 883 Public Schools Protected
Contact Information:
John Martin (

(New York, N.Y. – December 29, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commended the City of New York for replacing lighting fixtures containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 883 New York City public school buildings. This public health response began as a result of EPA’s enforcement of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Testing by the EPA at 10 New York City public schools in early 2011 showed that about 80 percent of the samples from light fixtures exceeded the regulatory level of 50 parts per million. At one school in Brooklyn, EPA found pure PCBs (1,000,000 parts per million) in the light fixture. The EPA and New York City worked to develop and implement a plan to identify, prioritize and determine the most effective ways to reduce exposures from PCBs in lighting fixtures within the New York City public school system. Hundreds of jobs were created to implement the project and hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures were replaced.

PCBs are probable carcinogens and can seriously damage the nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, and endocrine system. Exposure to PCBs may occur as a result of their release from old lighting equipment into the air and from direct contact with oil or dust on surrounding surfaces.

“PCBs are a particular risk to children because PCBs can damage their neurological system and affect their ability to learn. That is why it was so important to remove lighting fixtures that contain PCBs from all public schools in New York City. The New York City Department of Education is to be commended for protecting children’s health and saving energy with new and improved lightings,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator.

In 2010, New York City and EPA began measuring indoor PCB levels in a number of New York City public school buildings. That program identified caulk and lighting ballasts in older fluorescent lighting fixtures as sources of PCBs. EPA’s testing of light fixtures for PCBs in early 2011 confirmed there was a problem. In 2013 the Department of Education accelerated their efforts to replace old, PCB-containing lighting and the project was completed in December 2016. This work was also the result of a lawsuit filed by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Over time, PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts begin to fail. They can leak, volatize and can emit smoke, leading to elevated levels of PCBs in the air of schools. That’s why the EPA recommends that leaking ballasts must be removed and properly disposed of along with any part of the fixture that has been contaminated with PCBs.

A complete lighting retrofit improves energy efficiency by 30 to 50 percent. New York City performed an evaluation of the energy and associated cost savings at 28 City public schools. The schools are located throughout the five boroughs (nine in Brooklyn, seven in Manhattan, five in Queens, three in Staten Island, and four in the Bronx). The annual energy savings varied from 67,464 to 451,388 kilowatt-hours, with a respective annual cost savings of $11,131 to $74,479.

EPA has also developed written guidance as part of its ongoing efforts to address potential PCB problems in buildings such as schools. That guidance can be found at


Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Building Materials

EPA is concerned that there is potential widespread use of PCB-containing building materials in schools and other buildings constructed or renovated between about 1950 and 1979. This page provides the Agency’s updated guidance for school administrators and building owners, including information about managing PCBs in building materials to help minimize possible exposures to building occupants.
On this page:

Information about PCBs in Building Materials for School Administrators, Building Owners and Managers

Fact sheet: Practical Actions for Reducing Exposure to PCBs in Schools and Other Buildings: Guidance for School Administrators and Other Buildings Owners and Managers - This fact sheet provides concise information on how to manage and reduce exposures to PCBs in building materials.
PCBs in Building Materials: Questions and Answers - This questions and answers document is meant to help school administrators, building owners, managers and occupants better understand the types of building materials that may contain PCBs, the potential for building occupant exposure to PCBs, and how exposure to PCBs can be assessed and reduced.
PCBs in Building Materials: Diagram - This diagram compliments the document PCBs in Building Materials: Questions and Answers on how exposure to PCBs can be assessed and reduced in school buildings.
PCB-Containing Fluorescent Light Ballasts (FLB) in School Buildings: A Guide for School Administrators and Maintenance Personnel - This page provides information to school administrators and maintenance personnel on the hazards posed by PCB-containing FLBs, how to properly handle and dispose of these items, and how to properly retrofit the lighting fixtures in your school to remove potential PCB hazards.
Exposure Levels for Evaluating PCBs in Indoor School Air - The PCBs in air levels were developed to maintain total PCB exposure below the oral reference dose (RfD) of 20 ng PCB/kg body weight per day. The RfD is an estimate of a daily oral exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of harmful effects during a lifetime.

Information for Contractors Working in Older Buildings that May Contain PCBs

The information on the following pages is designed to assist building owners and abatement contractors who may be handling PCB-containing or PCB-contaminated building materials during planned renovation or repair activities or planned PCB abatement efforts in older buildings:


Regardless of the size of a project involving potentially contaminated building materials, contractors and building owners should be especially aware of the impact of their work in buildings occupied by high-risk populations, such as schools and daycare centers. The information provided is intended solely for guidance and does not replace or supplant the requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) or the PCB regulations at 40 CFR Part 761. Those responsible for renovation, repair, or abatement activities of potential PCB-containing or PCB-contaminated materials should review and understand the regulatory requirements, and are encouraged to consult the EPA or experienced environmental professionals with PCB cleanup activities. This information does not impose requirements or obligations on EPA or the public. The use of the word "should" in this document reflects an EPA recommendation, not a requirement.
In addition to the PCB regulations under TSCA, renovators and abatement personnel should also be aware that their activities may also disturb asbestos-containing materials and/or lead-based paint. Read more about EPA's regulations and guidance for lead-based paint and asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has standards and guidance on the hazards of lead and asbestos specifically for workers and employers.
The use of the term "caulk" in this document refers to any building joint, window, or door sealer or filler found on the inside or outside of a building.

Test Methods for PCBs in Buildings

Test Methods for Determining the Presence of PCBs in Indoor Air

EPA has the following two approved methods for determining the presence of PCBs in indoor air:

Test Methods for Determining the Presence of PCBs in Buildings Materials

EPA recommends that building materials suspected to contain PCBs be tested directly for the presence of PCBs and removed if renovations are planned in the building. The PCB regulations provide appropriate methods for testing. More information on these procedures can be found at:

EPA Research on PCBs in Buildings

EPA conducted research to address several unresolved scientific questions that help to assess the magnitude of problems surrounding PCBs in school buildings, and to identify the best long-term solutions. For example, the link between the concentrations of PCBs in building materials and PCBs in the air or dust is not well understood. The results of this research will be used to provide further guidance to schools and building owners as they develop and implement long-term solutions.

Research on PCBs in Schools

In response to concerns raised by the public about PCBs in schools, EPA scientists have been identifying and evaluating potential sources of PCBs in schools to better understand exposures to children, teachers, and other school workers. EPA is also investigating methods to reduce or eliminate PCB emissions in a school setting.

Research Results

  • Caulk put in place between 1950 and 1979 may contain as much as 40 percent PCBs and can emit PCBs into the surrounding air. PCBs from caulk may also contaminate adjacent materials such as masonry or wood.
  • Fluorescent lighting fixtures that still contain their original PCB-containing light ballasts have exceeded their designed lifespan, and the chance for rupture and emitting PCBs is significant. Sudden rupture of PCB-containing light ballasts may result in exposure to the occupants and may also result in the addition of significant clean-up costs.
  • Some building materials (e.g., paint and masonry walls) and indoor dust can absorb PCB emissions and become potential secondary sources for PCBs. When the primary PCB-emitting sources are removed, the secondary sources often emit PCBs.
  • Encapsulation is a containment method that uses a coating material to separate PCB sources from the surrounding environment to reduce surface and air concentrations of PCBs. Encapsulation is only effective at reducing air concentrations to desirable levels when PCB content in the source is low. Selecting high-performance coating materials is key to effective encapsulation. Multiple layers of coatings enhance the performance of the encapsulation. 
As EPA gains new information, it will make further recommendations regarding PCBs in schools and how to best prevent harmful exposure.