Update (03/10/2023): Another school in the Philadelphia School District, Simon Gratz High School Mastery Charter, closed on March 8, 2023, due to asbestos sightings and concerns. It’s the second Philadelphia school to close within one week due to asbestos. Philadelphia School District officials announced that Simon Gratz High School and Gratz Prep Middle School, which are both part of the Mastery Charter program, will be closed for at least one week. Students will transition to virtual learning while the school undergoes repairs and asbestos remediation.
The Philadelphia schools asbestos saga rolls on.
Another school in the Philadelphia School District closed down due to concerns of asbestos that could cause harm to students, teachers and staff. NBC10 Philadelphia and The Philadelphia Inquirer both reported that Building 21 High School in the West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia shut down last week due to asbestos sightings.
Students switched to virtual learning for two days – Thursday, March 2, and Friday, March 3 – before moving to Strawberry Mansion High School. The school district closed Building 21 High School indefinitely for asbestos remediation work. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, approximately 400 students from Building 21 High School will occupy one floor of Strawberry Mansion High School.
School district officials originally said last week – when students were learning virtually for two days – that they hoped Building 21 would reopen by this week. However, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the building requires extensive work before it can reopen.
ShaVon Savage, the Philadelphia School District Deputy Superintendent, wrote a letter to families and staff affected by the closure: “Sections of the walls in the auditorium balcony, stairwells, and projector room require repairs due to the asbestos-containing plaster being damaged and flaking. There also is visible damage to the auditorium ceiling, and crews will be working to build scaffolding to access the area, assess the condition, and conduct any appropriate repairs.”
Why the School Closed Due to Asbestos
Asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen capable of causing cancer, including a rare cancer called mesothelioma. This cancer forms in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Asbestos can also cause lung cancer and ovarian cancer.
Asbestos was a popular part of constructing buildings – including schools – during the 20th century. Asbestos is durable and heat-resistant. When it’s solid and compact, asbestos is harmless. However, asbestos can decay and break apart, which releases microscopic fibers into the air. These fibers can enter the human body through the mouth or nose and irritate cell linings with their sharp edges. The irritation to cell linings is what leads to cancer.
Global Concern of Asbestos in Schools
Decaying asbestos in schools is a major concern globally. Mesothelioma Guide has a page dedicated to the crisis of asbestos in schools. As asbestos decays and fibers break apart and enter the airspace, students, faculty, and other staff are all at risk of exposure. This can be a cause of developing cancer decades later.
Building 21 was originally located at a different address, but it moved to its current location in 2017. The school building for Building 21 High School was built in 1915, placing it in the prime of asbestos’ industrial rise in the United States.
This news is the latest in a lengthy saga involving asbestos sightings within Philadelphia’s old school buildings. The crisis began in September of 2019 when two schools – Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy – shut down due to asbestos concerns.
Five more schools – for a total of seven – shut down before the end of 2019. Four more schools shut down in the first few months of 2020.
There were also reported issues of widespread asbestos found in Chicago schools, Scranton (Pennsylvania) schools, and the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Community School District.
- Parents Voice Concerns Over Philly School Changes After Asbestos Discovery. NBC10 Philadelphia. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/parents-voice-concerns-over-philly-school-changes-after-asbestos-discovery/3514635/. Accessed: 03/06/2023.
- Building 21 students must relocate because of asbestos remediation, and staff are ‘reeling’. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved from: https://www.inquirer.com/news/asbestos-building-21-strawberry-mansion-closed-20230303.html. Accessed: 03/06/2023.
- Simon Gratz Closed After Asbestos Findings, Second School to Close This Week. NBC10 Philadelphia. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/simon-gratz-closed-for-asbestos-inspection-second-school-to-close-this-week/3516756/. Accessed: 03/10/2023.
Sources & Author
Sources & Author