An ongoing asbestos crisis within Philadelphia public schools has another chapter.

The Philadelphia City Council approved additional regulations and steps for inspecting asbestos in school buildings. The council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring more inspections for asbestos and other hazards before schools can open to students.

According to the website Philly Voice, the Philadelphia Public School District opposes the ordinance, saying it adds unnecessary steps and actually delays efforts to remove asbestos from school buildings.

Asbestos in schools is a problem because schools are one of the buildings created with asbestos during the 20th century. Many school buildings are old, meaning they still have asbestos in the ceiling, walls, around wires, and more places.

Asbestos can deteriorate and break apart, releasing small fibers into the air. This puts students, teachers and others in schools at risk of breathing in dangerous fibers and developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.

 

History of Asbestos in Philadelphia Schools

The drama involving asbestos in Philadelphia schools dates back to 2018. A handful of schools temporarily closed. Some parents withheld their children from school. Teachers filed complaints and one was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2019 after 28 years of work for the school district. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia School District.

At least seven schools closed due to issues. Hopkinson Elementary closed on Feb. 2, 2020. Asbestos was found in multiple locations, including the cafeteria. Asbestos in ceilings and around wiring is the main area where asbestos is found in schools.

The other six closed schools were:

  • Benjamin Franklin High
  • Science Leadership Academy
  • T.M. Peirce Elementary
  • Franklin Learning Center
  • McClure Elementary
  • Carnell Elementary

These seven schools weren’t the only ones with issues. In January 2020, the Philadelphia ABC TV affiliate reported 174 of 214 schools have asbestos in the building. There have been a reported 1,700 asbestos projects at Philadelphia public schools since 2016.

 

New Process for Inspecting Asbestos in Schools

Inspection for schools to open previously involved fire and electrical safety, lead paint assessment, and water quality. The approved ordinance now requires the city’s Department of Public Health to ensure each school follows best practices for testing, remediation, abatement and cleaning of asbestos.

Each school undergoes checks every three years. Each year, one-third of schools receive a review from the Department of Public Health. Inspections would be made public within 10 days and lead to the school opening to kids for the school year.

Councilmember Derek Green introduced the idea to the council. The new standards would go into effect in August and be implemented over three years.

“As the parent of a child in the Philadelphia School District as well as the son of a retired Philadelphia public school teacher, I can’t begin to describe my feelings regarding this issue and how crucial it is that we demand more transparency and better outcomes from school district leadership,” Green said.

The ordinance also creates the Facility Safety and Improvement Advisory. This voting board oversees the testing and remediation process. Each member is appointed by Philadelphia’s mayor. Up to three students, non-voting committee participants, are included on the board.

 

Resistance From Philadelphia School District

Philadelphia School District officials oppose the ordinance due to delaying asbestos removal and remediation efforts. Asbestos in schools can be either removed or sealed. Most asbestos activists, health professionals and other experts believe removing asbestos is the safest option for long-term public health.

Joyce Wilkerson, president of the School District, said the ordinance relies on “non-experts and ad-hoc standards” making compliance “impossible.” She stressed expert-guided regulations are already in place and best practices are followed.

    Sources & Author

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About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.

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    Sources & Author

Picture of Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.