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I Deserve to Know

September 8, 2011

By Michelle Chapman

This morning I dropped my daughter off for her first day at her new school. And like every parent who’s started their child off at a new school, there are a million things I’m worried about. Will she like her teacher? Will she make new friends? Will she be able to keep up? Is she prepared? But this year my main concern is whether her new school is contaminated with toxic PCBs like her last one was.

I found out about PCBs last year, when my daughter attended 4th grade at Harlem Link Charter School. But it wasn’t from the principal or anyone at the Department of Education, it was from a fellow New York Communities for Change (NYCC) member, who told me that even though there were more than 750 school that could be contaminated, the DOE was doing nothing to find out if our kids’ schools had PCBs. If you want to find out if your child’s school is at risk for PCBs, click here.

I had always wondered why asthma was so high in certain areas and when I found out the PCBs have been linked to asthma, I was outraged that they kept this information away from us. That’s when we took matters into our own hands, collecting samples from our kid’s schools and sending them to a lab to be tested.

The results? The caulk sample I took from a window at my daughter school had PCBs levels above the EPA limit. I shouldn’t have had to take matters into my own hands to find out whether or not my daughter’s school was contaminated.

After seeing how the DOE continues to handle the situation with the PCBs, it didn’t surprise me when I found out that the DOE kept news of another toxic chemical from parents. In January, the DOE found high levels of Trichloroethylene or TCE, a cancer causing chemical solvent, in P.S.51X in the Bronx. But it wasn’t until just last month that parents at P.S. 51x were notified. The Department of Education knowingly exposed students to TCE for the remainder of the 2010-2011 school year.

The building that P.S. 51x is located in used to be a factory that used TCE and there are 31 more NYC schools are located in buildings in similar buildings. Even though the DOE tested these schools over the summer they haven’t released the results to parents. This morning, parents sent their kids to those schools thinking they were going to a safe environment when they could be sending them to a toxic one.

My daughter’s new school was built during the timeframe when PCBs were used in construction and hasn’t been tested yet. So I’m starting this year with the thousands of parents who don’t know what type of environment they are sending their child to every morning.

The DOE needs to give parents the facts about environmental dangers in our schools. If you want to tell Chancellor Walcott that parents have the right to know if there are toxic chemicals in their children’s schools, click here.

This morning, parents will be following Mayor Bloomberg Chancellor Walcott on their first day of school visits, to let them know that they can’t ignore this issue. You can watch it live at

Michelle Chapman is a public school parent and a leader of New York Communities for Change.


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