School Climate & Safety Report Roundup

Environmental Toxins

By Kate Stoltzfus — October 11, 2016 1 min read

An estimated 30 percent of K-12 students are exposed to unhealthy levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, through common building materials found in schools, according to a Harvard University study.

The study, by Robert Herrick, a senior lecturer on industrial hygiene at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was published earlier this year and publicized last week in new reports from the office of Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and the Environmental Working Group, a research organization.

Once a material in the production of caulking, sealants, fluorescent lights, and paper, the chemicals could be in 30 percent to 50 percent of schools built between 1950 and the late 1970s, the research finds. As the building materials and lights age, PCBs spread into the air and dust, paint and other building fixtures, and outside soil—and students breathe them in. The Harvard study estimates that 13,000 to 26,000 schools could contain PCBs.

But schools are not required by law to test for PCBs or report them—or to notify teachers and parents of the potential health hazards, according to the research.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2016 edition of Education Week as Environmental Toxins

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