Philadelphia Lawmakers Urge Quicker Asbestos Abatement in Schools

The School District of Philadelphia has done an excellent job of removing lead-based paint from many of its schools but it’s taking too long to address another killer, say city officials and advocates for safer schools.

Philadelphia Lawmakers Urging Quicker Asbestos Abatement in SchoolsAsbestos is the culprit, those lawmakers say, and they believe the district is simply dragging its feet concerning the formation of a plan for remediation. They hope district higher-ups can take the lessons they learned from the lead paint removal and apply it with the same gusto to getting toxic asbestos out of more than half of the city’s schools.

“We know it’s a big issue. Let’s start working on a plan,” Councilman-at-Large Derek Green told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Just like we did with lead, let’s be proactive with asbestos as well.”

But the district said their inaction is not for a lack of desire to do the right thing. They say they are hindered by a lack of necessary funds and ineffective strategies for keeping kids and teachers/staff safe during the work to remove the hazard.

“Recently obtained documents, photos, and emails reveal a district that triages asbestos-related emergencies and blunders, rather than apply comprehensive reforms,” reported The Inquirer.

Though seven elementary schools were cleaned up during the summer and in September were declared safe for all to enter, that didn’t remain as such for very long. Two of the seven schools found themselves cleaning up new instances of asbestos contamination shortly after schools opened for the fall.

In one case, officials found an auditorium full of asbestos dust just a few weeks into the new school year. In another instance, asbestos insulation scraped from a steam pipe was left on a sixth grade classroom floor.

At another school separate from the seven addressed during the summer, asbestos remediators left asbestos debris and dust all over the school. It appeared no clean-up had happened after the abatement.

All the asbestos in the pre-World War II schools in Philadelphia has put Philly teachers and staff among those in the city most likely to develop asbestos-related diseases during their lifetime.

Children, too, are at an increased risk because their breathing rate is higher and they are more likely to inhale fibers because of that. In addition, children spend lots of time on the floor, where the dust generally accumulates.

“It is very important to not underestimate the very real cancer exposure that could happen for children who are exposed in a school and perhaps repeatedly over the course of being there for six years or more,” said Marilyn Howarth, a physician and the director of community outreach and engagement at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology.