As the father of an 8-year-old attending Public School 36 on Staten Island, Richard P. Ghiraldi was alarmed to learn that students were being exposed to a known carcinogen.
Last month, Mr. Ghiraldi and hundreds of other parents kept their children home from school for four days after tests showed that lighting ballasts — the devices that regulate electric current for fluorescent lights — were leaking the highly toxic chemical compounds known as PCBs onto the light fixtures and floor tiles.
“I was surprised they still had these old ballasts in schools,” said Mr. Ghiraldi, a paralegal. “You’d think the custodians and the teachers would think it’d be a danger.”
Yet as he and other parents in New York City press doctors and government officials on the risks from the aging classroom fixtures, which remain in some 800 of 1,200 city school buildings, the answers have been frustratingly vague. Adding to the parental stress, the Bloomberg administration has disputed the urgency of replacing all of the T-12-style fluorescent lighting, estimating it would cost about $1 billion. Its negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency continue.
There is no immediate health risk from PCBs lingering in schools, all are told, yet with one important caveat: the longer the exposure, the higher the risk.