News and Speeches

Schools Chancellor Walcott, Corporation Counsel Cardozo and Council Speaker Quinn Announce Agreement to Accelerate Replacement of Light Fixtures in 645 School Buildings

05/21/2013


New Timeline Will Expedite Work so that Remaining Lighting Replacements Will be Finished in Approximately 3 ½ Years 

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today announced an agreement that will accelerate the replacement of light fixtures in 645 school buildings so that work will be completed approximately 3 ½ years from now. The new timeline is a significant reduction of the previously announced 10-year schedule, and the entire project will be completed by the end of 2016.  The agreement follows successful mediation between the City and New York Communities for Change.  The agreement is consistent with the City’s longstanding plan to evaluate its ability to undertake the unprecedented replacement schedule on a shorter timeline without disrupting critical educational programs.  The City was able to reduce the schedule by focusing this program exclusively on light-fixture replacement and adopting different approaches for contracting this work. The new calendar provides for all outstanding replacements to be completed by 2016, instead of 2021 as originally proposed.

“Since the beginning of this proposed plan, I have always said that we would reassess the timeline once we had a better understanding of the work.” said Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott.  “We will continue to listen to parents’ concerns and do as much as we can to build the best possible school environment for our students.  We will also continue to dedicate enormous resources to this challenging project.  By the end of this summer, we expect to have replaced light fixtures in over 200 schools and buildings.”

“Though this issue has evoked strong sentiments from all involved and was the subject of a major litigation, attorneys from both sides sat down together and, with the assistance of the magistrate judge, engaged in very detailed, productive discussions to find the right solution,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo.  “This outcome demonstrates the City’s commitment to a smart and beneficial outcome.”

“Our top priority is making sure our schools are the safest environment possible, and with this shorter timeline we will be much closer to the day when parents and school staff no longer have to worry that they are exposing their children and themselves to highly toxic carcinogens,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Reducing the light fixture replacement timeline by half in our city’s schools is a major victory for parents, students, teachers and all school staff.  I want to thank the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, NY Communities for Change, Parents, the EPA, and my colleagues Council Members Jackson, Ignizio, Levin, Greenfield and Gennaro who kept up the pressure to accelerate this timeline. I also want to thank the Bloomberg Administration for working with the Council to comply with our relevant legislation and for making this possible”

“Today is a victory for the thousands of children attending New York City public schools who deserve to learn in a safe, non-toxic environment. This expedited timeline for the removal of harmful PCBs from lighting fixtures in hundreds of school buildings is a common-sense agreement that puts this city’s schoolchildren first,” said Council Member James F. Gennaro, chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection. “I congratulate all of the parties involved for reaching this important agreement.”

“I am very pleased to learn that the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the City of New York have reached an agreement committing to remediate each and every school which is plagued with dangerous PCBs by 2016.” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “This is a victory for every parent, child and school staff member in the New York City school system.”

“This is a great win for the children and staff of the NYC school system,” said Council Member Vincent Ignizio. “I am proud that the NYC Council played a role with many other groups including the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York Community for Change and the UFT to ensure this important public health issue came to a conclusion that will protect our kids.  I want to thank Speaker Quinn and the parents and teachers all of who made the removal of PCBs in our schools a mission that we would not relent on. NYC once again will lead the country in removing potentially hazardous PCB's from our schools.”

“Since the beginning of its proposed plan, I expressed to the DOE that ten years was way too long to address PCB’s in schools. Today’s settlement sends a strong message that sometimes you have to go the distance in order to get justice.  Parents, educators and legislators are grateful to New York Communities for Change and New York Lawyers for Public Interest for staying the course and winning this victory on behalf of students and the rest of the school community. I also applaud the DOE for reaching a speedy agreement that is in the best interest of students and school staff. Congratulations!” said Councilman Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee.

Some light fixtures in older school buildings use or used light ballasts that contain chemicals known as PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls).  The manufacture of PCBs was banned in the late 1970s, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permitted certain existing PCB equipment to remain in use.  The presence of PCBs in older schools is a national issue that has emerged over the past few years, and school districts, small and large, face the expense and difficulty of managing these materials in the face of federal guidelines that are often unclear and incomplete.

The timeline agreement is the result of detailed discussions with New York Communities for Change’s counsel and additional input by the Court.  It effectively resolves the group’s lawsuit, filed in 2011. The mediation process was overseen by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, and the agreement is enforceable by the Court.  The Honorable Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. is the federal judge assigned to the case, and the Honorable Cheryl L Pollak is the assigned magistrate judge.


About PCBs

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PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) are a group of manmade chemicals that were widely used in building materials and electrical products in the past. The EPA banned the manufacturing and certain uses of PCBs in 1978, but buildings constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978 may still have building materials and electrical products that contain PCBs. Examples of products that may contain PCBs include caulk, paint, glues, plastics, fluorescent lighting ballasts, transformers and capacitors. PCBs continue to be widespread in our soil, air, water and food because of past use and disposal. PCBs break down very slowly and can remain in the environment for a long time. Almost everyone has been exposed to PCBs because of the widespread presence of PCBs in the environment. Most people have some PCBs in their bodies. In general, however, PCB levels in people have been going down since they were banned.