Healthy Facilities™

Interview of Attorney Against PCBs - Carla Burke

By PC4HS Staff

How did Baron & Budd get involved in the movement to rid our schools of PCBs?

 

Baron & Budd has represented hundreds of municipalities and school districts in environmental litigation. We generally seek to shift the costs of clean-up away from taxpayers and ratepayers and toward the companies that are responsible for the chemicals. PCB litigation is no different. We want to get PCBs out of schools, and we don’t want to see taxpayers shoulder the burden of removal.

 

Why do you think it took so long for people to wake up about PCBs in our schools since PCBs were banned in 1979?

 

Schools didn’t have a clue until very recently that PCBs could be in their buildings. EPA has never undertaken any kind of comprehensive education program to inform schools and parents. And, to my knowledge, the manufacturer of PCBs has never voluntarily identified the products that may be in schools — even though their use was banned over 30 years ago.

 

What made you, personally, decide to get involved in this fight against PCBs?

 

Our schools are an often-overlooked national treasure. Children spend years of their lives in these buildings — learning skills, developing abilities, forming relationships, and growing into their personalities. They should be safe and wholesome environments for those children and for the adults who foster their growth. On a personal level, I went to public schools, but I also grew up surrounded by educators. My mother worked in public and private school systems for more than 30 years, and I saw first-hand the time and effort that she and her colleagues devoted to their work. They believed in education as a public service to the nation, and they took that service to heart.

 

What is your biggest concern with regard to PCBs in our schools?

 

Given the effects that PCBs can exert on human development and immunity, children are particularly vulnerable to exposure. So, preventing that exposure is my first concern. But it’s also important to protect the adults who work and volunteer in schools.

 

Why should a school choose Baron & Budd to represent it with regard to its potential PCB issues instead of another law firm?

 

Baron & Budd has a lot of experience with the legal and scientific aspects of environmental litigation. But, more important, we have spent a lot of time working with public entities. We understand that public entities have responsibilities to their communities in addition to their own interests.

 

What is your advice to schools who have concerned parents approaching them with questions about what they have done about possible PCB contamination?

 

A school that detects PCBs should take some immediate steps to reduce exposures. At the same time, the school should communicate openly with parents about the presence of PCBs, the steps being taken to prevent exposure, and the long-term plan for removing the PCB sources from the buildings.

 

Conversely, what is your advice to concerned parents who want to know more about their school’s actions with regard to possible PCB contamination?

 

Communities will benefit when parents work with — not against — schools. Parents must understand that this issue is new to schools, and schools are trying to do the right thing, which is no easy task. The school has to juggle parent and teacher concerns, remediation plans, student safety, budget issues, and compliance with EPA regulations. That process can run more smoothly when the school is not under attack by the community.

 

Are strings attached to your offer of “free” testing?

 

No, we will undertake the initial testing of any school building free-of-charge upon the request of the school superintendent, school board, or other administrator who is authorized to make such a request.

 

Is a contaminated school obligated to pursue legal action against Monsanto?

 

No, a school that accepts our offer of free testing is under no obligation to take any legal action against Monsanto. If PCBs are found above a certain level, the school must remove the PCB-containing material.

 

If PCBs are found, what does the school typically do next?

 

If a school finds PCBs, it should consult immediately with an environmental remediation expert to determine how to limit exposure to PCBs in the short-term while the school develops a long-term plan to remove PCBs from the building. We encourage schools to communicate the test results and these short-term measures to parents, teachers, and staff to calm their concerns and demonstrate that the school is taking proactive steps to protect all building occupants.

 

Is the absence or presence of PCBs reported to the media or is the information kept confidential?

 

B&B will not report test results to the media. The school must decide how best to inform parents, teachers, and staff of the presence of PCBs and the school’s plan to eliminate exposures. We advise the school to align itself with parents, teachers, staff, and the community as a partner in a project for better public health.

 

Have you already filed a lawsuit on behalf of a school against Monsanto over its PCB contamination?

 

Yes. We filed a lawsuit on behalf of a school district in Massachusetts that has detected PCBs in one of its schools and is testing other buildings. Through the lawsuit, the district is seeking to recover the enormous expense associated with removing the PCB-containing materials from its buildings.