Thanks to the union not minding its own business, as our enemies would restrict and define it, some people may not, after all, have their lives cut short by lethal diseases known to be caused by PCBs, which are found in building materials in around half of our schools.
Our city government has so far tested all of three schools since last summer. Their view must be “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
Does killing count as hurting?
By the time some victims of long-term exposure would get diagnosed, those who neglected to act responsibly to deal with the danger will have hightailed it out of the system and be beyond the reach of the law. The evidence trail will be cold and ambiguous and they will be out of the picture for one reason or other.
So the union, in front of media cameras and open microphones, and joined by conscientious political, labor and community leaders, urged the federal Environmental Protection Agency to intervene now to test all potentially contaminated schools.
Many people, including some union members, don’t fully realize the spectrum of the union’s “mission.” My own introduction came not so many years ago when a worker hired to remove asbestos in my school was seen carrying a pipe, several feet in length and lined in asbestos, through the hallways. He dropped it into an ordinary garbage can as though it were just another piece of trash, such as an administrative memo.
The “authorities” pooh-poohed the problem. But the union didn’t!
The UFT dispatched one of our top-expert industrial hygienists. She and other union people, including the chapter leader, were part of every session at every stage of the crisis, identifying problems, devising strategy for dealing with them, coordinating tasks, and absolutely ensuring that all the hard science plainly allowed for the school to be reopened safely.
The union has played a central role in tackling environmental risks countless times. By no means has it been limited to potential PCB hazards.
Let’s remain skeptical of the ability or willingness of governmental authority, federal, state or municipal, as watchdogs of our health and welfare. There was a time when the “powers that be” told us that Agent Orange was safe enough to drink as soda and atomic explosion tests all right to view from a few hundred yards away so long as you were wearing the kind of 3D glasses issued for movies like “Shrek.”
Remember the former New Jersey governor, Christine Whitman, whose personal manor and real estate holdings rival the square mileage of some of the smaller principalities of the “Old World”? Days after “9/11/01, she essentially declared the air at Ground Zero all right to breathe.
She was speaking then as head of the same agency that we are presently asking to get involved in the current PCB matter in our schools. But that was then and this is now. The current administration in Washington is serious about enforcing laws of this nature. Kids and adults in every school have the right to be protected from known dangers to their life and limb, regardless of the dollar cost.
By taking a powerful public position, the union is not grandstanding. But it is taking a grand stand.