Asbestos and Other Toxins Present in Philly Schools
A recent newspaper investigation in Philadelphia has revealed that about two-thirds of the elementary schools in that district – the nation’s eighth-largest – are riddled with extremely serious environmental hazards, including mold, lead dust, and errant asbestos fibers that are apt to permeate common areas.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News compiled their report first by reviewing several years of the district’s own records in order to gather information.
The newspapers reported that district records identified more than 9,000 environmental problems across the district since September 2015.
The newspapers also worked with school staffers to conduct some of their own environmental detective work, finding additional issues that might not have been profiled in district records.
Specifically, the papers recruited 19 staffers at some of the city’s most decrepit elementary schools to take samples at their respective schools, all in accordance with strict testing guidelines.
They used wipes to find mold or asbestos fibers as well as lead dust and they also took samples from the schools’ drinking water.
Samples were then sent to an accredited lab.
Once the sample results were merged with the district-generated records, the final report showed the following:
- Dangerously high levels of cancer-causing asbestos fibers were found on surfaces in classrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums and hallways.
- Hazardous levels of lead dust showed up on windowsills, floors, and shelves in classrooms, including one for children with autism.
- Triggers for asthma like mold, mouse droppings and cockroaches were also widely detailed in the district’s own records.
One of the problems has to do with the fact that more than 90 percent of Philadelphia’s elementary schools were built prior to 1978, which was about the time that the use of lead-based paint was outlawed and other laws severely limited (but did not ban) the use of asbestos.
The district responded by saying the tests were flawed and that the problems are not as extensive as was reported by the newspapers.
But, at the same time, they claim to have a handle on the problems, despite money problems that plague this huge inner-city district.
“We want to be proactive in identifying, assessing, controlling, and preventing environmental health conditions in our schools,” said Francine Locke, the district’s environmental director. “So, we go above and beyond regulations when we collect data about dampness, mold, paint, and plaster damage,” she explained, noting that it will take $3 billion over the next 10 years to build new schools, replace roofs and heating systems, and finish all urgent repairs.