Hey parents, as if you didn't already have enough to worry about, it turns out that many schools across the country are reporting an elevated level of PCBs in their window caulking. According to an article in the Massachusetts newspaper, The Telegram, teachers at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Mass., have recently been notified that window caulking in the school may have elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The notification also asked teachers to submit to blood tests to determine if they have PCBs in their bodies.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are classified as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The compounds are often found in building materials used in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in caulking but also in some window glazing, tile grout and other building materials. The EPA banned the use of PCBs in 1977 but never mandated that buildings be tested for the presence of PCBs. While it was legal when it was installed, the caulking is now considered potentially hazardous. Much like asbestos, people can become exposed to PCBs when the window caulking breaks down or becomes disturbed for some reason (ie: construction.)
If this were an isolated incident, I would consider it unfortunate, but not necessarily something to worry about. But the Telegram article went on to explain that three other schools in the area have reported elevated PCB levels. And in 2004, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that eight out of 24 public buildings in the greater Boston area contained window caulking materials that were contaminated with PCBs. In 2000, the Chafee Social Science Center at the University of Rhode Island was closed for nearly two years because of PCB contamination within the building. In 2006, caulking and window glazing at New Bedford High School was found to contain PCBs. And earlier this year, 19 public schools in New York City were found to have elevated levels of PCBs in window caulking, according to The New York Daily News.
There are likely thousands of schools across the country with materials that contain PCBs. If your child's school was built between the early 1960s and 1977, it might be worth further investigation. Just in case you needed something else to worry about.