Outrage Over Asbestos

Philly School Cleans after Outrage Over Asbestos

After it was announced that millions of asbestos fibers permeated a busy hallway and other locations in aging Olney Elementary School in the Philadelphia School District, the teachers’ union, along with parents, demanded a clean-up. And, surprisingly, the district complied, though the solutions aren’t likely permanent ones.

Philly School Cleans after Outrage Over AsbestosYesterday, “students and teachers arrived at their school to find that areas had been vacuumed, and damaged asbestos accessible to children and staff had been sealed off. Students with special needs were moved from a classroom that had damaged lead paint and perilous levels of asbestos into a portable classroom,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, the newspaper responsible for reporting the travesty.

The clean-up came three days after the newspaper, along with its sister paper – The Daily News, reported about the conditions found at Olney Elementary. Olney was part of the papers’ Toxic City: Sick Schools series, which examined environmental hazards inside 19 older district buildings. Testing there showed 10.7 million asbestos fibers per square centimeter were present, which is 100 times the legal limit for safe exposure.

Most of the errant fibers were concentrated in a hallway near an asbestos-insulated pipe that was supposedly fixed by the district in February.

Results of the testing showed otherwise. However, when students and teachers arrived at their school the other day, they found that areas had been vacuumed, and any damaged asbestos accessible to children and staff – including that aforementioned pipe insulation – had been sealed off.

Still, the conditions in many Philadelphia schools are alarming. After the Inquirer published the Olney-related report last week, City Councilwoman Helen Gym and Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, visited the school to view the problem.

During a tour, Jordan said he was “aghast” at the conditions he found inside Olney Elementary, particularly inside the “autistic support” classroom.

“I was absolutely horrified by the lead paint on the ceiling in the bathroom that the children use,” he said. “There were sheets of it hanging. You could see lots of pieces that had fallen down.”

After refusing to comment on these and other problems at Olney earlier in the week, District spokesman Lee Whack finally reported that licensed and trained asbestos workers would remove or encapsulate pipe insulation and thoroughly clean the areas with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum this weekend.

After the cleaning, the air will be tested for asbestos fibers to ensure that the building is safe enough for students and staff to return, he added.