May 23, 2013
By Neal Tepel
New York, NY – After nearly two years of litigation by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and their attorneys, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the city has agreed to cut in half its ten-year timeline for removing light fixtures containing toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from New York City's public schools. The settlement requires the City to remove all PCB light fixtures by December 31, 2016, or in three and a half years―a completion date five years earlier than that of the original ten-year timeline.
This important win for city school children was announced at a press conference Wednesday May 22, 2013 in front of the Department of Education headquarters known as the Tweed Courthouse (see picture).
Throughout negotiations with New York City, several Unions including 32BJ, UFT, DC37, Local 891 and CSA, launched an intense grassroots campaign against the city. This effort combined with parent and community pressure on the Department of Education and the Mayors Office was a defining factor in New York City addressing the unhealthy conditions in schools. It's significant to note that SEIU Local 32BJ prepared a report regarding the growing crisis in city school building that gained national attention.
"We are glad to know our schools will be rid of these toxic light fixtures in 3 1/2 years instead of a decade. Protecting our children and investing in a safe and comfortable learning environment should be the City's number one priority," said Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU. "Our members clean those fixtures and have the most direct contact with them. This new schedule will get these dangerous fixtures out as quickly and safely as possible," continued President Figueroa.
"This is great news for all the students and teachers and staff in New York City schools," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. "It's a shame that everyone has to go to court to get the City to do the right thing."
Clearly this settlement is a victory for New York City parents, students and schools staff. The city's new timeline for the elimination of PCB's in schools will ensure that the removal process happens as quickly and safely as possible. In three and a half years, public schools will finally be free of toxic PCB lights. Future parents won't have to worry about the effects of PCB exposure when they send their kids to school.