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Unpublished Paper
PCBs in Schools and Corporate Responsibility for Remediation: Yorktown Central School District v. Monsanto Company
ExpressO (2009)
  • Valerie J. Watnick
From 1950 to 1977, thousands of school buildings in the United States were constructed or renovated using materials containing man-made materials called poly chlorinated bi-phenols, commonly known as “PCBs.” In 1977, Congress banned most uses of PCBs in construction, recognizing the adverse health effects of these man-made compounds. Despite this ban and the now widely held belief that PCBs are known animal carcinogens, probable human carcinogens and have other toxic effects on the human reproductive, immune, endocrine and neurological systems, these compounds are still commonly found in school buildings throughout the United States. This article asserts that just as concerns about lead and asbestos were raised decades ago, regulators must now act to curtail the dangers associated with PCBs in school building materials and develop a broad plan to remediate contaminated school buildings. PCBs, unlike other toxins found in building materials, such as lead or asbestos, are not harmless when undisturbed. Rather, PCBs can move from sealants to surrounding materials, to air and to the ground, even if no physical changes are present in building materials. Congress should make testing for PCBs in schools built between 1950 and 1977 mandatory and legislatively mandate and enforce the safe removal of PCB-contaminated materials from the nation’s schools and. The EPA should immediately complete an independent risk assessment and establish threshold levels for air quality in schools and the EPA should immediately establish mandatory material and air testing protocols for PCBs in school buildings. In recent ground-breaking litigation involving PCBs, the Yorktown Central School District in New York State sued the U.S. makers and distributors of PCBs in federal court, urging that the sole corporate manufacturer of these chemicals should bear the burden of required remediation in the School District. At the time of the suit, the Yorktown Central School District had recently completed remediation of PCB laden caulk in all of its school buildings following the discovery of high levels of PCBs in school building materials. On the heals of these PCB clean-up efforts by the Yorktown Central School District and the School District’s federal lawsuit , in April 2008 in New York City, additional serious concerns about PCBs in schools also surfaced. These new concerns were raised following reports by the New York Daily News that it had secretly tested caulking in nine New York City Public Schools and found dangerously high levels of PCBs in the caulking of eight of the nine schools tested. These findings were disturbing on a local level, but even more disturbing for their implications nationally. Given that the New York City public school system is the largest public school system in the nation, serving over one point one million students and operating over 1500 schools, these findings serve as a “tip of the iceberg” warning to school districts, parents and lawmakers nationwide. The article outlines a framework for federal legislation – a Model Act – to comprehensively address the existence of PCBs in our nation’s schools. And finally, the article asserts that there exist legal, economic and policy reasons to hold the sole corporate manufacturer of PCBs in the United States liable for remediation and other costs associated with PCBs in our schools, rather than leaving the public to pay for the associated remediation.
  • PCBs,
  • Schools,
  • POPs
Publication Date
September 3, 2009
Citation Information
Valerie J. Watnick. "PCBs in Schools and Corporate Responsibility for Remediation: Yorktown Central School District v. Monsanto Company" ExpressO (2009)
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