A Lesson in Toxics – Why Banned PCBs are Cause for Concern in Schools

Penelope Jagessar-Chaffer (center) with daughter Oceana

Crossposted from Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS) blog.

When she first set out to learn what chemicals might be lurking in her body, mother-of-two Penelope Jagessar-Chaffer had no idea what she would discover. She was horrified to learn that PCBs, a group of flame retardant chemicals banned in the 1970s because of links to various health effects, were found in her body in greater amounts than any other type of chemical.

Almost 40 years after being banned, not only are PCBs still being found in people’s bodies, but they are present in some of the most unlikely places: our nation’s schools. Last week MOMS member Jagessar-Chaffer spoke at press conference on Women’s Reproductive Health joining other advocates in a call for the immediate removal of the PCB lighting fixtures found in nearly 700 NYC schools.

“We are dealing with an emergency situation and need to act swiftly,” Jagessar-Chaffer said. “Exposure to  PCBs affect almost every organ in your body and is especially toxic to the brain and the female reproductive system. If your child is exposed to PCBs, the long-term effects can be devastating.”

According to materials that support the campaign, there is enough scientific evidence to establish a relationship between prenatal PCB exposure and lowered IQ scores, as well as increased incidence of behavioral disorders,  thyroid dysfunction,  growth deficits (especially in girls),  decreased attention, alertness, and responsiveness in infants, and reduced immune function.

And because exposure to PCBs is bioaccumulative (built-up over time), they stay can stay in your body for years. According to Dr. David Carpenter, Director of SUNY Albany Institute for Health and Environment, “If a woman is teaching in a PCB environment and gets pregnant three years later she is still going to have maintained some of those PCBs.”

This knowledge, and the concern over her own daughter’s future reproductive health outcomes is what motivated Jagessar-Chaffer to attend last week’s event. She hopes that by spreading the word about the health risks of PCB exposure in schools, she can, in some way, help ensure a healthier future for all kids. She sees this as one more reason we need comprehensive chemical policy reform. So that we don’t have to wonder what might be the next PCBs 20 or 30 years from now.

“This is happening because there is no awareness.  However, parents and moms in particular are very powerful in bringing about change.  Wherever you live, you can make your voice heard to support the Safe Chemicals Act as well as the dozens of legislative initiatives that are happening at state level, all across the country.  Together we can make a difference.”

Right you are, Penelope. Thanks for taking a stand!

[Editor’s Note: Look for Penelope on The Dr. Oz Show tomorrow, where she grills EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about water safety!