School & District Management Video

Exposed to Toxic Chemicals at School: A Teacher’s Story

By Jaclyn Borowski & Mark Lieberman — November 1, 2022 5:38
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.

Toxic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were used in construction materials and other applications in thousands of schools nationwide from the 1950s until their manufacture was banned by the EPA in 1979. Their presence has been linked to a wide range of short- and long-term health concerns, and sparked hundreds of liability lawsuits. Joyce Marquardt taught in a school in Washington state contaminated with PCBs. She became sick and was one of three teachers who received a settlement from her district and a $185 million jury award for damages from PCB manufacturer Monsanto. The company is appealing that verdict and argues that the school districs and other parties should bear responsibility. This is Marquardt’s story.

Dive Into The Project

How PCBs Disrupt School Districts: A Vermont high school shut down and sent students and staff to a former Macy’s after high levels of PCBs were discovered. Here’s what unfolded.
Rural Schools Should Expect Confusion: Administrators at a rural Vermont school were flummoxed on how to move forward—and how to pay—after the state told them they’d need to remediate PCBs.
A PCB Primer: What you need to know about polychlorinated biphenyls, where they’re found, the threats they pose, and what can be done about them.
A Visual Guide to PCBs: How do these chemicals move from one part of a school building to another? How does exposure affect humans? An animated guide.
What Schools Can Do Now: Schools are often reluctant to test for PCBs because they’re afraid of what they might find. These proactive steps can make a difference.
The Human Toll of PCBs: A former teacher in Washington state shares the illnesses that ended her full-time teaching career and the lawsuit she pursued as a result.

Jaclyn Borowski is the director of photography and videography for Education Week.
Mark Lieberman is a reporter for Education Week who covers school finance.

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