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2 Philadelphia Schools Closed Indefinitely Due To Asbestos Concerns

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The Philadelphia School District has closed two schools indefinitely after renovations uncovered deadly asbestos. The closure of the schools, housed in the same building, comes just weeks after a longtime teacher in the city’s schools was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer most often caused by asbestos exposure.

News of the closure and the illness have heightened long-running asbestos concerns among parents and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The union says asbestos has been found at 150 schools in the district. The district spent three years and $37 million to remove or abate asbestos, but an investigation by The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that some schools had more asbestos than reported, and that at some schools the project was not properly completed.

On Sept. 25, exposed asbestos was found around air ducts in the boiler room at Benjamin Franklin High School. The building also houses the Science Leadership Academy. More asbestos was later found around ducts in a common area under construction. Approximately 1,000 students at the schools have been moved to an alternate location, and there is no timetable for their return.

There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Exposure occurs when humans inhale microscopic asbestos fibers, which are undetectable by sight, smell or taste. Those fibers then lodge themselves deep into the lining of the lung, and disease symptoms may not surface for decades. Besides mesothelioma, asbestos can cause cancers of the lung, larynx and ovaries. 

The risk is found across the nation.

In 2016, an EWG Action Fund study showed that students and teachers in nearly 200 Chicago public schools were at risk of asbestos exposure. In California, the Manhattan Beach Unified School District was cited with 27 violations in 2018 for negligent renovations at a high school in Los Angeles County. 

To combat asbestos threats, in 1986 Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which required the EPA to conduct inspections in schools in most states. But the inspector general’s 2018 audit found that the agency had neglected its responsibility, conducting only 13 percent of the required inspections. And even if all asbestos were removed from school buildings, that would not be enough to fully protect American kids.

Schoolchildren in Philadelphia and around the nation should not have to risk their health and safety just trying to get an education. Teachers like the one in Philadelphia should not have to get an incurable disease in order for Congress to act. The time to ban asbestos is now.