February 2, 2022. – This spring, schools across Vermont will begin testing for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a harmful group of human-made chemicals commonly used in building materials and electrical equipment before 1980. Vermont is the first state in the nation to require PCB testing in schools. If levels are detected at or above school action levels, schools are required to address the sources of PCBs to reduce exposure.
“PCBs are chemicals that can cause serious health problems,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “The effects of PCB exposure may not be immediate, but they can be serious. This statewide program will inform the actions needed to protect the health of our children and the health of the teachers and staff in our schools.”
The potential for health effects from exposure to PCBs, as with other chemicals, depends on how much, how often, and how long someone is exposed to them. Numerous studies in both animals and humans have shown that exposure to PCBs can affect the nervous, immune, reproductive and endocrine systems. PCBs are also classified as probable human carcinogens.
Vermont’s program is part of Act 74, passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2021, requiring every school constructed or renovated before 1980 to test their indoor air for PCBs by July 1, 2024. Additionally, Vermont legislation gives the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) authority to require action when PCBs are found at or above school action levels.
“We are working closely with school administrators, facility managers, and Health Department officials to test for PCBs, analyze results, and if necessary, identify steps to reduce PCB levels,” said DEC Commissioner Peter Walke. “This program will help us deliver valuable public health information to school administrators and support them in making decisions going forward that will protect students, teachers and school staff.”
Testing will focus on schools built or renovated before 1980 because they are more likely to have PCBs in their building materials. For example, old lighting ballasts may contain PCB oil. As the ballasts age, the PCB oil can leak onto nearby surfaces or produce vapors in the air. Similarly, if caulking containing PCBs deteriorates, PCBs may be released into the dust or air.
Once testing is underway, schools will be notified of the results and will be sent an individualized letter outlining the next steps. Results will also be posted online. If any results are at or above the school action level, there are ways that a school can lower exposure to occupants while they are working with DEC to address the sources of PCBs.