Frankford High School and Mitchell Elementary School have temporarily closed their buildings to address the issue of flaking asbestos in plaster walls and ceilings. District officials and building principals have communicated to parents that both schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year and possibly into the summer.
These closures have raised concerns of potential further building shutdowns in the district, as students are already grappling with disruptions to in-person learning due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Additionally, there has been a disagreement between city and district officials regarding the adequacy of communication to parents and other stakeholders about asbestos-related problems that have persisted in Philadelphia schools for years.
Asbestos Has Been an Issue in the Philadelphia School Districts
Asbestos has been a persistent issue in the Philadelphia school district, with multiple schools having to close in 2019 due to hazardous asbestos exposure. In 2020, the district settled with a teacher who contracted mesothelioma for $850,000. Students and teachers have consistently advocated for remediation efforts to ensure the safety of their school buildings.
As per the regulations outlined in the federal Asbestos Hazardous Emergency Response Act (AHERA), schools are mandated to carry out asbestos inspections at three-year intervals. In adherence to this requirement, the district has made available on their website AHERA reports, which reveal that the majority of plaster walls and ceilings in Mitchell, Frankford, and Building 21 have been designated with “NAD” status, indicating no asbestos detection. Nevertheless, despite the presence of these reports, concerns have been expressed by politicians regarding the district’s handling of the asbestos matter.
Understanding the Risk of Asbestos in Schools
Asbestos exposure in schools can pose significant risks to the health and safety of students, teachers, and other school employees. When asbestos-containing products deteriorate or become damaged over time, they can release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air, which can be inhaled or ingested, leading to serious health conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, even decades after exposure. Mesothelioma is primarily caused by asbestos exposure.
According to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos-containing materials are present in the majority of primary, secondary, and charter schools across the nation. These materials, which can include floor tiles, ceiling tiles, insulation, and other building components, may deteriorate or become damaged, increasing the risk of asbestos fiber release into the air and potential exposure to students, teachers, and other school personnel.
The risks associated with asbestos exposure in schools are significant and can have long-term health consequences. It is essential for schools to proactively identify and manage asbestos-containing materials in their buildings, in compliance with applicable regulations, to ensure the health and safety of all occupants and create a safe learning environment.
As we continue to see Philadelphia schools closing due to asbestos concerns, we understand the impact this can have on students, families, and communities. If you or a loved one has been affected by asbestos exposure, our experienced team at Goldberg, Perksy and White is here to help. Contact us at 412-471-3980 or fill out our contact form to learn about your options and see if you could be entitled to compensation. We are dedicated to fighting for your rights and advocating for justice.
Mezzacappa Dale, Sitrin Carly “Damaged Asbestos closed three Philadelphia schools this year. More Could be coming” Chalkbeat Philadelphia (April 17 2023) [Link]
Newbill Taleisha, “Two Philadelphia Schools Close After Discovering Asbestos” CBS News Philadelphia (April 8, 2023) [Link]
Brooks Bob, “2 More Philadelphia Schools Will Close Due To Asbestos Issues” 6 ABC Action News (April 7, 2023) [Link]
“Asbestos and School Buildings” EPA [Link]