DOE, EPA On The Case After Substance Landed On 10-Year-Old's Desk, Clothes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Crews were scrambling to replace old light fixtures in one Staten Island school on Wednesday after toxic chemicals leaked onto a fifth grader on the first day of class.

The chemical known as PCB leaked out of a light fixture last Thursday onto a 10-year-old girl’s desk and clothes at P.S. 41 in the New Dorp section.

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School officials said Gabby Sferrazza was taken to the school nurse immediately and the classroom was evacuated. Her father said he’s monitoring her closely for any effects.

1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sal Sferrazza told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang. “Nobody has answers for us.”

Sferrazza said oil stains on the front of his daughter’s dress serve as a permanent reminder of what happened to his little girl. He wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to another child.

“I went on Google, looked it up and saw it was no joking matter,” Sferrazza said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said almost every school in the city has PCBs, but advocates said this is the first time they’ve ever heard of them directly hitting a student.

Last year, the city agreed to begin removing PCB lighting ballasts from all 700 schools citywide after ongoing pressure, but the work will take 10 years to complete. So far, fixtures have been replaced in 83 schools.

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PCBs are used to cool old fluorescent lights. They were also used in construction material until 1979 when they were banned.

According to the EPA, exposure can lead to numerous health risks including respiratory issues, reproductive problems and even cancer.

“Exposure reduces the ability to learn and that, not only does it reduce the ability to learn, but this is an irreversible effect,” said Dr. David Carpenter at SUNY Albany.

Crews began replacing all the light fixtures at the P.S. 41 on Wednesday. The work is expected to be completed in two weeks.

Many parents believe it’s too little, too late.

“It didn’t happen because they were proactive, it happened because a child got leaked on,” parent Deirdre Knight said. “Us as parents don’t want the next child to get leaked on in between them changing the lights.”

“Which is to me, is ridiculous. You’re risking babies. These are kids,” Piera Sarcharsky added.

The Department of Education said Poison Control has indicated no direct health emergency. Representatives from the DOE wouldn’t go on camera, but e-mailed CBS 2 to say that the classroom is now safe.

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