have become the latest in a long line of things that might
be bad for you. Or rather computer dust. A recent study by
environmental groups found that dust from computers is contaminated
with toxic flame-retardant materials. The study, conducted
by the Computer Take Back Campaign and Clean Production Action,
was the first nationwide analysis of computer dust. The dust
was taken from 16 computers, two from each of eight states.
The organizations were testing for brominated fire retardants,
chemical compounds used in products such as televisions, computers,
and flame- retardant fabric material. Brominated fire retardants
have been classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental
Protection Agency, and have given liver cancer to rats and
mice who have eaten food containing the chemical compound.
The chemical family, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers
(PBDEs), comes in many different forms, depending on the amount
of bromine: penta-BDEs, octa-BDEs, and deca-BDEs. Deca-BDEs
are the most widely used fire-retardant chemicals in the electronics
PBDEs are increasingly being found in human tissue and breast
milk worldwide, and according to a study done by the Computer
Take Back Campaign, women in North America have the highest
levels of these chemicals in their breast milk and the levels
are doubling every two to five years. Studies such as this
one led Europe to phase out all PBDEs in consumer electronics
sold in Europe by 2006. In the United States, manufacturers
are voluntarily phasing out penta-BDEs and octa-BDEs, and
several states are passing legislation to ban BDEs in new
electronic equipment. Maine recently banned the sale of products
containing deca-BDEs, and California banned the use of penta-
and octa-BDEs in 2003.
In New York, a similar bill is raising some questions. The
bill originally contained language providing for the phase-out
of most BDE types, but has been modified in the state Senate
to remove references to deca-BDEs, which has some environmental
groups up in arms. New York’s computer-dust samples tested
the highest for deca-BDEs among all the states’ tests. According
to Kathy Curtis, executive director of Citizens’ Environmental
Coalition, “since manufacturers are voluntarily phasing out
penta-BDE and octa-BDE, any legislation that doesn’t deal
with deca-BDE is mere window dressing at this point.” Industry
representatives say that deca-BDE is safer because it is too
large to inhale, but environmental advocates say it is still
dangerous because it breaks down into smaller particles.
Safer alternatives do exist, says Curtis, but “the industry
is just being dragged kicking and screaming to safer practices.”
in Your Seat Until You’ve Finished Your Work
at the Alliance for Quality for Education’s rally and civil
disobedience on Tuesday (June 22) were longtime activists,
state legislators, and well-known figures like United Federation
of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. But in many ways,
the more important people were those who made up the rest
of the crowd: parents and students for whom this was their
first protest of any kind, many up from Brooklyn and the Bronx,
more than a few who spoke only Spanish.
They traveled to Albany to demand that the Legislature, which
was scheduled to end its session that day, comply with the
decision in the recent Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit
and pass a budget that meets New York’s constitutional requirement
to provide an equal education to all its children. The state
has a deadline of July 30 to bring its school-aid formula
think that children would come first to people,” said Ralph
Leguillow, a retired firefighter and parent of three children
who go to school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
Eddie Citron, a 13-year-old who attends P.S. 3 in the Bronx,
carried a sign he made that showed a school, with labels like
“no music,” “no gym,” “no science room,” “dead flowers,” and,
perhaps most poignantly for the state’s lawmakers that day,
After a rally, the crowd of 200 marched around the Capitol,
and 22 people holding yellow caution tape arranged themselves
in front of the State Street entrance to the building. They
said their intention was to keep the legislators from leaving
until they passed a budget that complied with the CFE decision.
Doug Williams, an AQE board member and parent from Schenectady,
said he’d watched his daughter’s class size grow from 16 to
32 from kindergarten to 4th grade, and that her schools lacked
certified teachers, pre-k programs, after-school programs,
and adequate facilities. This was his first civil disobedience.
“They have to do their job,” he said.
Paul Webster, an Albany School Board member, also joined the
civil disobedience. “We wouldn’t have to raise taxes if we
had adequate money from the state,” he said. Tuesday was Albany’s
second school budget vote this year; the first proposal didn’t
pass. “We need to give our teachers, nurses, educators, the
resources they need,” said Webster.
Other arrestees included county legislator Wanda Willingham
(District 2), Brooklyn Democratic state Sens. Carl Andrews
and Kevin Parker, and Weingarten.
After a short time, state police arrested the protestors,
taking them into the Capitol to avoid cheers from the gathered
crowd, which continued chants such as “Vacation can wait,
save the children of the state.” Those arrested were charged
with disorderly conduct, and given appearance tickets for
next Tuesday, June 29.
Second Time’s the Charm
Tuesday, June 22, voters passed a $145.3 million revised budget
for the Albany City School District by an 858-vote margin.
Last month, a $147.9 million budget was rejected by a margin
of 448 votes. Community activists, school-board members and
teachers heaved a collective sigh of relief: If this attempt
had failed, the school district would have been forced to
implement a contingency budget that would have resulted in
significant job and program cuts.
Before the vote, school-board member Patricia Fahy admitted
to being nervous about the outcome. She was concerned that
voters had used the first budget vote as a referendum on the
facilities plan, an ambitious program of rebuilding, renovating
or replacing most of the district’s schools—including a controversial
new middle school to be built at Kelton Court. The facilities
plan had already been approved, and had no connection to the
budget. “For people to think that it does [would be] a big
mistake,” Fahy said.
Other theories about the first ballot’s failure included white-voter
dissatisfaction with outgoing schools Superintendent Michael
Johnson, and simple unhappiness with a 10-percent tax-rate
increase (reduced by 4 percent in the revised budget).
was a tough year in Albany to pass a school budget,” said
Jim Tierney of the group People Advocating Small Schools (PASS).
As Tierney explained, Albany county taxes “went up dramatically,”
and city taxes increased by 19 percent.
PASS was one of the organizations, which included the PTA
and less-formal, student-led groups, that worked hard to get
the revised budget passed.
ran a fundamental turn-out-the-vote campaign,” Tierney noted.
PASS used their database of likely “yes” voters to make calls
and send postcard reminders of the revote. These efforts had
the desired effect: In the second ballot, more than 2,000
more voters went to the polls.
we lost this budget,” Tierney summed up, “we would have gone
backward” on all the positive efforts made to improve public
education in Albany.