Guidance Offered To Schools For Handling Potential PCB-Containing Dust

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

The 501c3 Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools® (PC4HS) group is providing guidance on handling potential PCB-containing dust from substances such as older caulking in schools. Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools® (PC4HS) group is providing guidance on handling potential PCB-containing dust from substances such as older caulking in schools.

According to the US EPA: “Caulk containing potentially harmful polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was used in many buildings, including schools, in the 1950s through the 1970s. Most schools and buildings built after 1979 do not contain PCBs in caulk.

“On September 25, 2009, EPA announced new guidance for school administrators and facility managers with important information about managing PCBs in caulk and tools to help minimize possible exposure. Through EPA PCB Regional Coordinators, the Agency will also assist communities in identifying potential problems and, if necessary, developing plans for PCB testing and removal.”

PC4HS recommends that schools take two initial steps when caulk or other materials are suspected of containing PCBs:

  1. Test first (a non-custodial role). Per EPA: “If testing reveals PCB levels above the levels EPA has determined to be safe, schools should attempt to identify any potential sources of PCBs that may be present in the building, including testing samples of caulk and looking for other potential PCB sources (e.g., old transformers, capacitors, or fluorescent light ballasts that might still be present at the school).
  2. If elevated PCB content is found, proceed with EPA Guidance. (See and .)

General PC4HS IAQ Guidance

Dust—potentially containing PCBs and other unwanted matter—should always be considered a “hazardous” substance and be safely contained and removed from buildings rather than stirred into the air. PC4HS recommends high-efficiency containment and removal methods including:

  • Well-filtered vacuums certified for Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) by Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) testing, and/or other independent labs.
  • Emptying and cleaning/inspecting vacuum filters regularly to avoid overloading and torn or compromised media; and to help ensure optimal safety and performance.
  • Emptying vacuum liners or bags outdoors and into a plastic trash liner to avoid spreading particles.
  • Damp cloth or microfiber dusters that capture and remove particulates. These materials should be laundered separately from other textiles.
  • Frequent dusting (e.g., in classrooms) utilizing cleaning specialists in a mapped and inspected process or plan that enables regular and thorough removal of soils (including dust).
  • Good ventilation to minimize airborne particles that may be harmful or allergenic.

The definition and identification of dust that is “potentially hazardous” has become broader as health science has advanced, since pollutants in even tiny amounts (parts per billion) are known to affect human hormonal systems; these are known as “endocrine disrupters.” Therefore, PC4HS follows the “precautionary principle” of avoidance and adheres to EPA information that advises a three-stage strategy to protect IAQ:

  1. Source removal or capture
  2. Ventilation
  3. Air cleaning (in partnership with HVAC departments)

The number one way, source removal or capture, is standard procedure for PC4HS crews. In addition, PC4HS is looking at ways to monitor and track airborne levels of dust (Reference: Dylos) and sample dust for allergens (Ref: Inbio.). See also this link.

Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) is a national non-profit organization of facility professionals dedicated to helping produce healthy, high performance schools while protecting jobs in budget constrained environments. PC4HS optimizes efficiency, cleanliness, ease of deployment, and health factors through a carefully designed and documented system tailored for K-12 school districts.