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Bronx pols urge fed aid for PCB cleanup

As the city faces the daunting cost of removing toxins discovered in several public schools by a Daily News investigation, two local congressmen have offered financial help to schools in New York and nationwide.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens/Bronx), whose district includes a majority of city schools found to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and fellow Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx) teamed up to add a provision to a bill providing federal funds for certain school repairs and renovations allowing the grants to be used for removing PCBs.

PCBs, highly toxic chemicals routinely added to caulking to keep it flexible until they were banned in 1977, have been found in schools in New York City, Boston and Westchester County, but the problem exists nationwide.

Most institutional buildings built between 1960 and 1977 are likely to contain caulking with many times the level of PCBs to be considered toxic waste.

Federal law requires that PCB-laced caulk must be immediately removed and disposed of at a hazardous waste site, enforced by fines of up to $25,000 per day.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that our children are taught in a healthy school environment," said Crowley. "Like asbestos and lead paint, the presence of PCBs in school classrooms is unacceptable. A problem this serious demands that the federal government provide some help to state and local governments."

By making federal money available to absorb the costs of caulk removal, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act would significantly reduce the disincentive to test for the toxins, which is what has kept this contamination off the radar - but in classrooms - for the past 30 years, the congressmen said.

"Clearing the way for federal funds to be spent on mitigating any PCB contamination issues in our schools is a vital first step," said Serrano.

The act passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week by a vote of 250 to 164, and now goes to the Senate for consideration.