All three of the city schools tested for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found to contain higher-than-acceptable levels.
Tests indicate P.S. 199 in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, P.S. 178 on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx and P.S. 309 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn contain PCB amounts exceeding federal guidelines.
Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency will test a school in Queens and a school on Staten Island, but experts say these early results suggest many of the city's 1,500 schools may contain unsafe levels of PCBs.
The Department of Education says air samples improved after caulking and lightening fixtures containing PCBs were removed; however, the levels still exceed federal guidelines.
Advocates say it would be expensive to decontaminate all city schools, but there are serious health concerns associated with long-term PCB exposure, including cancer.
"PCBs are a neurotoxin. They effect the development of the reproductive system, respiratory system, and learning, cognitive abilities," said Gigi Gazone of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. "So these things at low level of exposure and consistent exposure can have a detrimental affect. And it's ironic you're sending children to learn in a school and they may be breathing in something that's going to prevent them from doing just that."
PCBs were used in school construction and electrical materials from the 1950s until 1978.
This study, which is being conducted by the EPA, the city and the School Construction Authority, is the first of its kind in the country.