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Are our children being exposed to dangerous synthetic chemicals at school?

As children throughout Connecticut return to school, parents often have many worries and concerns. While school-related issues related to bullying and achievement gaps often grab the headlines, those related to the possible exposure to harmful toxins go largely unreported.

A recent report by WNPR raised troubling questions about the significant number of Connecticut elementary and secondary schools that likely contain unsafe levels of the synthetic chemical known as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. While the chemical was banned from use in 1979, it was widely used during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in the construction of hundreds of Connecticut schools.

An additive in caulking materials used between bricks, along walls and inside window casings; if inhaled, PCB poses serious health risks including respiratory problems, skin lesions and liver damage. Much like asbestos, PCBs don't naturally break-down or disintegrate. Therefore, the only way to remove PCBs is through a lengthy and costly remediation process.

Also like asbestos, when disturbed PCBs are released into the air where they can be inhaled and also spread to pollute other materials and the soil. Despite the known health risks and prevalence of PCBs in the state's schools, neither federal nor state laws mandate that public or commercial buildings be tested for PCBs.

Consequently, it's extremely likely that thousands of Connecticut school children, teachers and staff members are being exposed to these harmful toxins throughout the school year. One such school in Hartford, Clark School, was shut down last year after PCB levels "several hundred times the limit set by the EPA," were discovered at the school.

Students, teachers and school staff members have a right to a safe and hazard-free environment. In cases where harmful chemicals and toxins like PCB exist at a school, the school district must take actions to intervene and carryout a safe remediation of the hazardous materials.

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