The U.S. EPA will provide an updated guidance to school administrators and maintenance personnel about how to manage PCB-containing light fixtures. Many older, fluorescent light fixtures have ballasts that contain PCBs. When a ballast fails, it can leak, and release PCBs into the air. Over 150 incidents of leaking or smoking ballasts in schools in New Jersey and New York were reported to the EPA in the past 15 months.
According to the EPA, elevated levels of PCBs in the air are generally not an immediate threat to health, but that they can become of concern if they persist over time. Therefore, proper removal and disposal of leaking ballasts, as well as of any other part of a lighting fixture that has been contaminated with PCBs, is essential.
Removal of PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts is both protective of human health, and potentially economically beneficial to schools. The EPA writes, “Removal of PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts, as part of lighting upgrades or a stand-alone project, is an investment that may pay off with long-term benefits to students, school staff, the community and the environment. A complete lighting retrofit eliminates the PCB hazards and increases energy efficiency by 30-50 percent. Lighting retrofits to eliminate PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts should be considered as a component of any remodeling effort. The cost of replacing these fixtures can typically be recouped in less than seven years depending upon hours of operation and local energy costs.”