PCB Testing in Vermont Public Schools

PRS Briefs
Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Between the 1930s and 1977, chemical companies such as Monsanto manufactured electrical equipment and building materials, including caulk and light ballasts, with human-made chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Although PCBs were banned in 1979, a lack of removal efforts means they persist in many buildings constructed before that date, including many schools in Vermont. This report analyzes four components pertaining to this PCB problem: the current scientific landscape, testing and remediation, stakeholder perspectives, and a case study of New York City. First, we detail the negative effects of PCBs on the endocrine, nervous, reproductive, and immune systems,
focusing specifically on the health effects of airborne PCBs. Next, we discuss the remediation strategies of abatement and mitigation, including air filtration, as well as the cost and safety trade-offs of each. In terms of stakeholder views, we discuss the concerns of superintendents, focusing on funding mechanisms and limited relocation options in the case of high PCB levels in their buildings. We also explore litigation against Monsanto, the chemical manufacturer, across the country. Finally, we discuss New York City, the first comparable school system to test for and remediate PCBs. We explore their caulk remediation strategy, best management practices in combination with occasional abatement, as well as how they improved public involvement and transparency. Finally, we present policy recommendations that reflect our findings.