Caution tape and caution signs surround Burlington High School in Burlington, Vt., on May 9, 2021.
Student Well-Being Project

PCBs: How the Toxic Chemicals Are Disrupting Schools

Whether they know it or not, school districts will have to confront an environmental threat born of construction practices dating back more than half a century: contamination from toxic chemicals known as PCBs. Though their manufacture is now banned due to their health consequences, they were once ubiquitous in school building materials, used in caulking, insulation, light fixtures, and more. Their presence has sparked multimillion-dollar lawsuits, costly testing and remediation efforts, school shutdowns, and headaches for local administrators. Education Week visited communities dealing with PCBs in their schools to assess the human and fiscal impact of this evolving challenge, made worse by a chronic lack of infrastructure funding.




  • 'The Building Was Sick': PCBs Pose an Environmental Crisis for Schools
    Thousands of schools face the costly, disruptive prospect of finding and eliminating a toxic chemical once used in building materials.



School & District Management Explainer What to Know About PCBs in Schools: A Visual Primer
Key facts about a toxic chemical that continues to contaminate older schools.
11 min read
Image of a classroom
Laura Baker/Education Week and Getty
School & District Management PCBs' Presence Hits Hard for Rural Schools
A tiny school in northern Vermont is the test case for a statewide PCB testing program that has hit plenty of obstacles.
6 min read
The main school building in Cabot, Vt., as seen on Oct. 13, 2022.
The main school building in Cabot, Vt., where a state-ordered environmental testing program found elevated levels of PCBs earlier this year.
Luke Awtry for Education Week
School & District Management How Districts Can Get Ahead of the PCB Threat in Their Backyard
Removing toxic chemicals from schools can be costly and complex, but it's possible to get a jump on the process.
5 min read
Image of school buildings on a map.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management See Where PCBs Show Up in School Buildings, and Why That's a Problem
The toxic chemicals were commonly used in construction materials in schools from the 1950s to the 1970s.
3 min read
Image of paint roller and paint.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management PCBs in Schools: A Timeline
A toxic chemical once used in construction materials in schools has led to decades of controversy and multiple lawsuits.
3 min read
In this Jan. 4, 2019 photo, workers and other officials walk outside the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., before going inside to collect samples for testing. The samples were tested for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dioxins and furans. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school.
Workers and local officials prepare to take samples to test for chemical contamination at the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., in January 2019. The building was found to be contaminated with polycarbonated biphenyls, or PCBs.
Ted S. Warren/AP
School & District Management Video Exposed to Toxic Chemicals at School: A Teacher's Story
One former teacher shares how PCBs ruined her health and upended her life.
In this Oct. 9, 2019, photo, people walk near an entrance to the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Wash. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school.
In this Oct. 9, 2019, photo, people walk near an entrance to the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Wash. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school.
Ted S. Warren/AP

Lead image: Caution tape and caution signs surround Burlington High School in Burlington, Vt., on May 9, 2021.
—Luke Awtry for Education Week