Ecology News: Getting PCBs out of schools is key target of new plan

Washington Department of Ecology – NEWS
March 2, 2015

Andrew Wineke, Ecology communications,,  360-407-6149, Twitter: @ecologyWA
Nathan Olson, OSPI communications,, 360-725-6015
Donn Moyer, Health media relations,, 360-236-4076

 Getting PCBs out of schools is key target of new plan
Removing old fluorescent light transformers will protect kids, save energy

OLYMPIA – Finding and eliminating the toxic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, contained in some fluorescent light ballasts in schools is the priority recommendation of a plan released today by the Washington departments of Health and Ecology.

Although federal law banned PCBs in 1979, there are widespread reservoirs of this toxic chemical in fluorescent light ballasts, old caulk, electrical transformers, and paint. In addition, new PCBs are generated as byproducts of some manufacturing processes, such as making pigments and dyes.

PCBs are persistent in the environment, build up in the food chain, and can cause adverse health effects in humans and wildlife, including cancer and harm to immune, nervous, and reproductive systems. Light ballasts are a particular concern because they can fail, dripping PCB-laden oil in classrooms and other public areas – although they do not pose an immediate health risk if they are not leaking.

As much as 3,300 pounds of PCBs a year in Washington may be released from light ballasts, although there needs to be more research on how many PCB-containing ballasts are still in use. Some school districts have replaced these light fixtures, but there is no complete census of where they are or how many still remain. Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has a program that assists local schools in replacing these PCB-containing light fixtures with more energy-efficient lighting.

“Getting decades-old light ballasts that contain PCBs out of schools and away from kids is an investment in the future of our state,” said State Superintendent Randy Dorn. “It protects our students, protects the environment, reduces electricity use, saves money and produces higher-quality lighting. It’s a smart move every step of the way.”

Along with replacing PCB-containing light ballasts, the plan recommends a number of other measures to prevent PCBs from getting into the environment, such as taking additional precautions when demolishing old buildings. The plan also calls for more environmental monitoring for PCBs and additional research on how PCBs are generated as manufacturing byproducts.

“We need to clean up the remaining sources of PCBs that pollute our water and fish,” said Maia Bellon, Ecology’s director. “This plan gives us a playbook to do just that, protecting the environment and the health of our kids.”

Ecology and Health developed the PCB plan with input from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, local governments, businesses, and health and environmental organizations

“Widespread toxic pollution is an invisible threat to the health of people in Washington, especially our kids,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We must continue to find and remove these sources of toxics, including PCBs. This plan will continue that work and help to prevent health effects for generations to come.”

This is Washington’s fifth chemical action plan. Previous plans have addressed toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury and the flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ether. Like PCBs, these chemicals stick around in the environment and accumulate in people and animals.

Governor Jay Inslee is proposing to expand Washington’s chemical action plan system to deal with these widespread toxic chemicals more comprehensively. Gov. Inslee’s budget proposal includes funding for the recommendations in the PCB plan, expanding OSPI’s energy efficiency grant program and a number of other measures to support eliminating toxic chemicals and preventing pollution in Washington communities.