Officials: No health risk from PCBs found at Ludlowe
FAIRFIELD — Environmental consultants and town officials assured a small crowd Tuesday that PCB-containing paint detected at Fairfield Ludlowe High School during a window replacement project poses no health risk for students and staff.
“There’s no risk,” said Jeffrey Hamel, Senior Vice President of environmental consulting firm Woodard & Curran. At the July 11 forum, he characterized the concern as regulatory rather than a safety issue. Because testing has indicated there is no health risk, the timeline for remediating the paint is less rushed; the town will submit its plan to the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of the year.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic chemicals banned in the U.S. since the 1970s due to environmental and human health concerns, though they were widely used before that time. Several government entities now classify PCBs as known carcinogens. Hamel’s team believes the PCB-containing pain is a light green paint encapsulated under one to three coats of paint in sections of Ludlowe constructed in 1961-1962. The paint is mainly in classrooms and areas where there are windows, he said.
The window construction project will not be delayed.
Hamel described the primary risks from PCBs are people breathing in high levels of the airborne chemical or directly touching and then ingesting it. To assess the risk, Woodard & Curran conducted air and surface tests this spring. In April, 17 surface tests taken on each floor of the school were sent to the lab and no PCBs were detected — even on surfaces where the PCB-containing paint is suspected. Thirteen air samples showed no levels that are above the EPA’s guideline limit for schools. Hamel said testing will continue seasonally with another round of testing planned this fall.
During the meeting, town Health Director Sands Cleary concurred with Hamel’s assessment.
“This is a regulation issue,” he said, “not a safety issue.”
Though a decision will need to be made by the end of the year, staff and consultants have yet to plan how the remediation will be carried out. The paint would either be removed and disposed of, which Hamel estimated typically costs $300-$500 per ton of material, or contained through encapsulation, which he estimated typically costs $5-$10 per square foot for work and painting.
Similar projects typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in total, Hamel said in an interview.