Victoria Morse. Eunice Mason. June Rosenblatt. Lisa Ellen Morris. Cheryl Joseph Louis. Patricia Hollohan. Asaph Daniel Schwapp.
What do these women and men have in common? They all died of some form of cancer in the last two decades. At some point in their career, they were all potentially exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls as either students or staff of Annie Fisher Magnet School in Hartford.
What are polychlorinated biphenyls? Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic chemicals found in building materials such as paint, caulk, electrical equipment, adhesives, light fixtures and dyes/pigments. PCBs were manufactured in the United States by Monsanto from the late 1920s until banned nationally in 1979. Over time, PCBs become airborne and bioaccumulate (or increase in concentration) in tissues of living organisms, including humans. PCBs can also be found in soil and water samples, and have traveled by air as far as the Artic Circle. In animal testing completed in the last decade, exposure to PCBs is positively correlated with a wide variety of health issues such as fatty liver, genotoxicity, thymic atrophy, and thyroid hormone-level alterations. For persons exposed in commercial settings, such as factories and municipal buildings, increase in liver enzymes leading liver damage, respiratory difficulties and chloracne- related dermal lesions, depression, fatigue and gastrointestinal distress were among the conditions reported. Exposure in utero throughout the first years of life has been associated with longer-term neurological problems and behavioral disturbances in children. Despite concentration in common building materials pre-dating 1979, most people are exposed to PCBs through contaminated air or water, secondary to consuming meat or fish containing PCBs.
Nationally, the risk of exposure to PCBs has been declining overall, as remediation to remove PCB- laden materials efforts have made in commercial and school settings since the 1970s. Statewide efforts to do the same in Connecticut has been minimal, limited only to restrictions on public dumping in waterways and causeways and well as advisories on not fishing in areas with identified high concentration of PCBs and other toxic substances. Four years after the closure of J. C. Clark Jr. Elementary School in 2015 due to PCB contamination, there were at least 15 schools that were constructed between 1950 and 1979 that may have utilized building materials with PCBs. By 2019, eleven of those 15 schools remain untested. Schools are required by statute to test for asbestos and lead, but not PCBs. At the time of this writing, it is unclear if the state coordinating authority for PCB remediation has sought out grant funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cleanup and Disposal Program or how often state officials are in contact the regional EPA director regarding testing schools in Hartford specifically. In fact, The State of Connecticut, permits the use of equipment containing PCBs “to continue in use for the remainder of their useful lives” despite being banned from public circulation in 1976. All attempts to contact PCBs Coordinator at deep.PCBProgram@ct.gov in writing have bounced back.
For the sake of children, youth and adults who attended and/or worked at Annie Fisher Magnet School in Hartford, further guidance is needed from Governor Lamont on the strategic plan to address PCBs in schools built between 1950 and 1979. In addition to an outcome-based plan, mandatory testing for PCBs in all schools built during this period should be enforced immediately, as well as the creation of a centralized database to house all students and staff who were connected with identified schools since 1950.
If you believe you have been potentially exposed to PCBS at your work place or school setting, please contact National Capital Poison Center at 800-222-1222 and/or Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at the Center for Disease Control at 800- CDC-INFO. ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental that specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances such as PCBs.
Victoria Morse. Eunice Mason. June Rosenblatt. Lisa Ellen Morris. Cheryl Joseph Louis. Patricia Hollohan. Asaph Daniel Schwapp. May their memories be a blessing to all.
Bicking, LCSW MPA CD (DONA), was Co-Chair, Connecticut Green Party, from 2018 to 2020, and CT Green Party Nominee, CD#2 2018