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EPA, N.Y. Department of Education Battle Over Costs To Clean Up Toxic Schools

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How many teacher's salaries does it take to change a lightbulb?

According to the New York Department of Education, about 15,000.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Department of Education are in a heated battle over funding the removal of PCB contaminated lighting ballasts and caulking from public schools. However, new legislation may help ease the burden of cost.

Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, told The Wall Street Journal that fixing the problem could cause thousands of teacher layoffs.

"We are working with the Obama administration to find solutions that do not impose a $1 billion unfunded mandate on city taxpayers that would force 15,000 teacher layoffs."

To ease tensions over cleanup costs, state representatives introduced the Safe Schools, Healthy Kids Act on Monday. Reps. Joesph Crowley (D-Bronx/Queens), Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx) formed the bill to create a federal grant program accessible to schools affected by PCBs. In a press release on his website, Rep. Nadler said that the issue needed prompt attention.

"The issue of PCB contamination in our schools is an urgent health matter that deserves a serious federal response."

PCB, a chemical compound known to cause birth defects and cancer, is found in a variety of materials used in construction prior to 1979. The EPA contends that up to 850 schools could qualify for inspection.

Over the summer, tests conducted in three sample public schools showed PCB leaking from cracked window caulking and lighting ballasts. The United Federation of Teachers and other community organizations participated in a press conference soon afterward to demand immediate action. Echoing their constituents' concerns, all 13 House members who represent New York City signed a letter to the EPA asking for immediate action.

The Department of Education maintains that the levels of PCB in their schools do not pose an immediate threat, and prefer to wait for the results of more tests before submitting schools to inspection. However, the EPA has announced school inspections to start as soon as January.

Judith Enck, an administrator for the EPA, told The New York Times the office was intent on remedying the toxic situation of city schools.

"The protection of public health dictates that measures be taken to reduce this exposure as quickly and completely as reasonably possible."

Although the Safe Schools, Healthy Kids Act would benefit schools across the country, Rep. Crowley told the NY Daily News that the financial battle in New York helped spur his decision to appeal to congress.

"While PCBs are found in schools across the country, the funding would really benefit New York City."

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