Mariano: Half-truths and alternative facts about PCBs at Burncoat and Doherty

“And now that everyone knows the truth, the mayor and School Committee still refuse to admit that there is a potentially very serious health risk in these two buildings. They refuse to cooperate with their own teachers and involve the EPA in testing so that everyone knows exactly what they are facing. They hide behind language like there is ‘no conclusive proof.’ “

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 102]: PCB pop quiz

We’re nothing if not educational, here at Sun Spots. When the chips are down, we want to be there for the people of Worcester. And what could more important to a city and its residents than healthy schools? That’s gotta be a short list.

A potentially much longer list might include the number of public schools where possibly dangerous PCBs could be lurking around windows, brickwork and light fixtures.

This raises some very good questions. Hitch has answers.

Editorial: Time for turnaround on PCBs in Worcester schools

Worcester school officials could have put their attention on old window caulking and other building materials that harbor potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

Instead, it appears they opted for bureaucratic walls and legal wrangling.

Over several years of this, a potentially serious PCB problem has persisted.


In at least three city schools, according to the limited data available — and perhaps quite a few more — children and teachers remain at risk from polychlorinated biphenyls. The man-made organic compounds were commonly used in caulking and fluorescent lighting ballasts in schools and other buildings that were constructed or renovated in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

A federal ban on PCBs took effect in 1979. However, in a regulatory gap U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, vowed last week to repair, school officials are not required to replace potentially dangerous caulking or lighting fixtures unless PCB levels exceeding 50 parts per million are measured and recorded.

It amounts to a “don’t test, don’t tell” situation that potentially puts users of an older building at risk.

Worcester schools flunking PCBs test, union says

Eight years after learning of the possible danger of PCBs in some of the city’s public schools, in June the union representing Worcester teachers won the right to test for the cancer-causing agents in Burncoat and Doherty Memorial high schools.

While the ruling was a victory for the Educational Association of Worcester (EAW), troubling questions remain: Why did all of this take so long, and why would the city act as obstructionist to a simple test brought on by concerns of possible elevated cancer rates in one of the city’s schools?

Burncoat High School

PCBs are most often found in window caulking but were also prevalent in older fluorescent lighting ballasts found at schools like Burncoat.

The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations ruling contains many, but certainly not all, of the answers.

For while it details events as they unfolded, it is impossible to determine intent. The 86-page ruling details a stalemate between the union and city, which balked at testing even after the union conducted a surreptitious test that showed elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in caulking in four schools.

Scroll down to check out the June decision and other related documents


Back to the beginning

The idea to test the school system stems from a 2008 presentation by a member of the Harvard School of Public Health before the Environmental Health and Safety Committee of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA).

More PCBs coverage: