BY BILL EGBERT
Tuesday, April 14th 2009, 4:00 AM
A growing number of Bronx parents are joining a lawsuit to force the city to clean up toxic waste found in public schools.
More than a dozen parents and one prominent organization have signed on or expressed interest in joining Bronx mother Naomi Gonzalez, who last month became the lead plaintiff in a notice of intent to sue the city for failing to remove caulk contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from her children’s school.
Gonzalez said she is “furious that [the city Education Department has known about this] and has done nothing.”
Gonzalez’s kids, Emelina, 6, and Devin, 11, attend Public School 178 in the Bronx, where lab tests commissioned by the Daily News found PCB contamination was 111,000 parts-per-million.
Anything with more than 50 ppm of PCBs is considered toxic waste under federal law, and must be removed.
New co-plaintiff Tyrone Jenkins’ 9-year-old son Tyhair attends PS 160 near Co-op City, where The News found PCB levels of 189 ppm — still nearly four times the threshold to require immediate disposal as toxic waste.
Jenkins says he decided to join the lawsuit because the city is breaking the law.
“The city wouldn’t hesitate to hold me to account if I committed a crime,” Jenkins said.
Nos Quedamos, a respected South Bronx community development group, has also signed on as an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit to be filed by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
The NYLPI will host an informational meeting for parents at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 24, at the United Methodist Church in Co-op City, 2350 Palmer Ave., at Hutchinson River Parkway E. Tests of nine public school buildings by The News last year revealed illegal levels of PCBs at six of them. The highest levels were found at Manhattan’s PS 199, measured at 225,000 ppm.
More than 200 city school buildings built before PCB caulking was banned are suspected of having illegal contamination, but the city has so far resisted calls for testing to determine how many buildings are actually affected.
The Department of Education has not even removed the toxic caulk from the schools where it was found - including the schools Gonzalez's and Jenkins' children attend - despite a federal law requiring it.
The Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that this leaves the city liable for millions of dollars in compounding fines with every passing week of the DOE's inaction.
The NYLPI lawsuit seeks to force the DOE to test all schools built or renovated before the 1977 ban, when PCB caulking was commonly used in construction, and remove any caulk with PCB levels of 50 ppm or higher, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Last week, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, whose Manhattan district includes PS 199, introduced a bill in Albany that would require by law what NYLPI's lawsuit seeks to achieve through the courts.
"It's kind of appalling that I need to write such a bill," said Rosenthal.
Last month, EPA scientists briefed its Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee on the issue of PCB-caulking in schools. The latest science shows PCBs to be powerful developmental toxins, affecting growing children at much lower exposures than adults, and the compounds accumulate in the blood.
The DOE maintains that PCB caulk poses no threat to students, and that children consume more of the toxins through the tiny amounts found in normal cafeteria food than they could receive through airborne exposure to the PCBs in caulk. The DOE is now referring requests for comment to the law department.
The city declined to comment on the lawsuit.