A mysterious liquid dripping from a light fixture at a Long Island City middle school alarmed staff and faculty members who discovered the substance was the potentially toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB).
The head custodian at I.S. 204 spotted the brown fluid trickling off a fixture in a guidance counselor’s office around 2:45 p.m. on Monday, September 10. The room was promptly sealed and a worker from Triumvirate Environmental, a Department of Education (DOE) contracted company, was dispatched to the facility.
According to Jeff Guyton, co-president of Community Education Council District 30, no students were in the area of the leak and because it was discovered early in the school year, students most likely had yet to meet with a guidance counselor in that room.
Previously used as coolant in electrical transformers and certain lighting fixtures, PCB was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1979. It may still be present in commonly used products, such as flourescent light ballasts, manufactured before the ban.
The DOE recently entered the second year of its decade-long plan to remove and replace all lighting fixtures throughout the city’s 700 school buildings. According to a spokesperson from the DOE, all schools have lighting fixtures with PCB ballasts. The representative said the agency’s plan is “unprecedented compared to other cities,” adding that PCB-infused fixtures are a nationwide issue.
The 10-year plan includes comprehensive energy audits and retrofits, replacing the dangerous fixtures with energy-efficient, PCB-free lights.
“We as a council want to make sure that we’re bumped up dramatically on the priority list,” said Guyton. “If there’s one that’s faulty, that means they’re at the end of their useful life. If one is corroded that means others are too.”
According to the DOE, confirmed leaks are investigated within 48 hours of discovery.
“Everyone needs to work as if their own child is in that school,” Guyton said. “I would be very upset if my kid was in that school — I would be livid. Everyone including the chancellor and construction agency needs to work with that urgency.”
The principal of I.S. 204 could not be reached for comment as of press time.