Philadelphia is taking new steps to protect students and staff from asbestos exposure. A new ordinance unanimously passed by the City Council will require annual inspections of all educational facilities that receive public funds. Schools with asbestos are a hazard to everyone, as asbestos is known to cause deadly diseases, like lung cancer and mesothelioma. The ordinance is designed to combat the asbestos crisis in Philadelphia schools, though it faces opposition from the school district.
The ordinance will enhance the city’s existing asbestos protocols. The current system, compliant with federal regulations, involves a surveillance inspection of asbestos materials in each school every six months and a more thorough inspection every three years. Schools are also checked for potential asbestos hazards before and after any construction.
Under the ordinance, asbestos conditions will be added to the list of annual inspections conducted by the city’s Department of Public Health, which already conducts yearly reviews for water quality and fire and electrical safety. One-third of Philadelphia schools are inspected each year. All school buildings that receive public funds will undergo additional evaluations during this three-year cycle, including testing, remediation of potential hazards, and asbestos abatement. The ordinance now goes to the Mayor’s office for signature, which the administration has indicated it will receive.
The additional inspections will be overseen by a newly created advisory group comprising of district officials, students, parents, union representatives, and an independent environmental testing expert. The Facility Safety and Improvement Advisory will monitor the inspection process and recommend necessary changes. The ordinance will empower this group to add other hazards to the required annual inspections, such as lead paint and mold.
The school district has been vocal in its opposition to the ordinance, saying that the new inspection requirements would impose an undue burden on the system. District representatives maintain that the current procedures are already adequately managing asbestos hazards, despite numerous issues with school buildings in recent years. Since October 2019, the district has had 11 partial or complete school closures due to asbestos.
District representatives also raised concerns about the advisory group, who will be making decisions about inspection requirements without the necessary expertise.
Asbestos in Aging Buildings
Many older buildings still contain asbestos products, such as floor or ceiling tiles, drywall, and insulation. More than 80 percent of Philadelphia school buildings were constructed before 1978 before many restrictions on asbestos use were put in place.
Asbestos is not dangerous when it sits undisturbed, however, asbestos fibers can become airborne when a product is damaged because of renovation or from normal wear and tear. When asbestos particles are inhaled or ingested, they get lodged in the chest cavity and begin to damage the surrounding tissues, potentially causing tumors to form.
Philadelphia Mesothelioma Lawyers at Shein Law Fight for Rights of Those Harmed by Asbestos Exposure in the School System
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer due to asbestos exposure in a school, speak with one of our Philadelphia mesothelioma and lung cancer lawyers at Shein Law. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 877-743-4652 or contact us online to discuss your case.