Families and Educators Deserve to Know

Council Members Levin and Johnson Introduce Bill to Strengthen Reporting on Toxic Clean-Up in City Schools


NEW YORK CITY—Council Members Stephen T. Levin and Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would strengthen and extend reporting on detection and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New York City public schools.

“New York families and educators deserve to know when PCBs are found in their schools and to be assured that the City is taking swift action to protect their health and well-being,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Intro 1434 expands and extends critical reporting measures on City progress to remove PCBs-contaminated materials and keep schools safe. I thank New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their steadfast dedication to amplifying this serious health concern.”

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the highest standards of health and safety for our children,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “Every parent has the right to know when PCBs are detected in the classroom, and every Council Member needs to be equipped with this information so we can assist in the abatement process. Simply put, this legislation is going to keep us on track to create safer, healthier learning environments for our kids. I thank Council Member Stephen Levin, Rachel Spector and her team at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their outstanding leadership on this issue.”

Until PCBs were banned in 1979 because they were found to be a dangerous neurotoxic substance, they were commonly used in construction materials, such as light fixtures and caulking. Although no systematic testing has been done to verify the presence of PCBs, they are suspected to be present in caulking, lighting ballasts, and soil at hundreds of New York City. 

Exposure to heightened levels of PCBs may result in adverse health effects, especially for young children at a critical period of neurological development. Both the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency consider PCBs a known carcinogen. PCBs bind to nucleophilic cellular macromolecules in the body, such as DNA, RNA, and protein, which may elevate long term cancer risk through accumulated exposure. 

Intro 1434 would amend Local Laws 68 and 69 of 2011, legislation also sponsored by Council Member Levin, which created parental notification requirements when PCBs were detected in children’s schools and also required the City to report to the Council its progress in removing light fixtures contaminated with PCBs. The City’s removal of all PCB-contaminated light fixtures will trigger the expiration of the existing law, although many sources of PCBs are thought to remain. The newly introduced bill:

  • Maintains the current reporting requirement that the Department of Education must notify parents upon the discovery of PCBs in their children’s schools; and
  • Requires annual reporting to the City Council of all PCBs detected throughout the school system from sources including caulk, soil, and heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, as well as reports of steps taken to remove or remediate PCBs after detection.

The 2011 legislation was introduced after the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York Communities for Change, resulting in remediation of lighting containing PCBs in 883 schools and protecting over 500,000 New York City children and educators. 

“While the City has made critical progress in removing PCBs from schools as a result of our lawsuit, there is still more work to be done,” said Rachel Spector, Director, Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The presence of PCBs in caulk remains a widespread problem, and the City must keep parents informed about when these harmful chemicals are discovered in their children’s school and what steps they are taking to address it. The health of our children is at stake.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now overseeing the development of a long-term plan to address remaining PCBs from caulk and other materials in New York City schools. The EPA plan is unlikely to require testing or removal of all sources of PCBs, and will focus on mitigating risks of exposure. Future tests of soil, caulk, air, or other school building materials may reveal elevated levels of PCBs.

Op-Ed: Half of NYC's early childhood educators get low pay and benefits



Council Members Stephen Levin, Cumbo, and Daneek Miller write op-ed calling for salary parity

New York City’s relatively new universal pre-K initiative is, by many counts, a striking success. Free, full-day classes are available to every 4-year-old in the city. Over 68,000 children are enrolled — triple the rate from just a few years ago. National observers say that New York City has effectively set the standard for how to do pre-K, dwarfing enrollment figures in other cities and states. New York City has also been a national leader in the fight for a $15 minimum wage.

We applaud the de Blasio administration for these significant achievements.

Despite these successes, there is one thing that is not universal about New York City’s pre-K, and that is how we pay our educators. Over half of the city’s pre-K teachers, support staff and administrators are paid significantly less than they should be: A certified teacher with five years of experience working in a community-based organization makes $17,000 less than a teacher with the same credentials and experience who is working in the public schools. With 10 years of experience, the gap doubles to $34,000.

Similar salary, as well as benefit, disparities exist for all early childhood staff and teachers in early childhood programs serving younger children year-round.

This means that many community-based educators are themselves living in poverty while performing the important task of educating low-income children. We have heard from an upsetting number of early childhood educators who live off food stamps, who are unable to pay rent or who can’t afford health insurance. A disproportionate number of them are women of color.

Meantime, their peers earn significantly higher salaries and better benefits.

These disparities are not only unfair, but they are triggering high turnover rates and risking a shortage of qualified teachers in the city’s most vulnerable communities. We know the mayor is working hard to tackle economic inequality — which is why we must address the fundamentally unequal pay structure and benefits that threaten the long-term sustainability of a potentially historic program.

Over the past several months, we and our fellow elected officials have joined advocates, parents and educators to call on the city to address this unsustainable rift in its hallmark initiative.

All early educators — whether they are public school employees or employees of community organizations with city contracts — are working with equal dedication toward the city’s ambitious goal for its youngest learners. The city should pay them all equally.