Battling Asbestos in Philadelphia Schools

Cohen, Placitella & Roth

Feb 3, 2023

The presence of asbestos in Philadelphia schools is more widespread and alarming than many people realize. Contrary to popular belief, though it stopped being used in most industries, the United States government did not ban asbestos in the 1970s. In fact, many manufacturers are still importing and using this cancer-causing material in their products, putting Americans at risk of developing preventable diseases.

Recent discoveries of asbestos in schools have prompted the Philadelphia School District to close facilities and conduct asbestos abatement projects. If you have developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, exposure at a Philadelphia school may be to blame.

History of Asbestos in Philadelphia Schools

Asbestos refers to a group of six fibrous minerals that occur in nature. For decades, many industries used asbestos fibers because of their heat, corrosion, and electricity resistance. Many building materials contain asbestos, including sprayed on fire and sound insulation, pipe coating, floor tiles, ceiling tiles and roofing and siding shingles.

Despite these otherwise useful qualities, asbestos is extremely dangerous for human health. When a person inhales asbestos fibers, they could develop serious illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

In Philadelphia, asbestos in schools is a major problem. Many school buildings have asbestos-containing materials, which have suffered damage and degradation over the years. Multiple investigations have discovered dangerous levels of asbestos in Philadelphia School District buildings, prompting the partial or complete school closures:

  • In May 2018, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an investigation that revealed dangerous conditions in Philadelphia schools. This report exposed the presence of asbestos, prompting the school district to act.
  • In September 2019, a multimillion-dollar renovation project began at Benjamin Franklin High School after the discovery of damaged asbestos materials.
  • In October 2019, Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leader Academy closed. This school closure came after an investigation revealed improper asbestos abatement.
  • Between October 2019 and February 2020, several schools were partially or completely closed for asbestos remediation. These schools include T. M. Peirce Elementary, Alexander K. McClure Elementary, Laura H. Carnell Elementary, James J. Sullivan Elementary, Francis Hopkinson School, Charles W. Henry School, and Clara Barton Elementary.
  • In January 2020, the district reopened McClure Elementary but promptly closed it. This decision came after air sample tests discovered dangerous levels of airborne asbestos in the facility. The school reopened later that month.
  • In January 2020, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia School District for failing to conduct proper asbestos testing and take appropriate action about the crisis.
  • In May 2020, a Philadelphia school teacher with mesothelioma settled with the Philadelphia School District for $850,000. She taught in Philadelphia schools for almost thirty years. One of her classrooms had damaged asbestos pipe insulation.

As of 2022, several asbestos abatement projects are continuing to take place across the Philadelphia School District. The Office of the Controller has an interactive dashboard that maps the status of asbestos abatement projects in Philadelphia schools.

Philadelphia Schools’ Actions against Asbestos

Since the issue first came to light, the Philadelphia School District has spent millions of dollars to address the asbestos crisis in its schools. Additionally, the Philadelphia City Council has passed ordinances to help reduce asbestos exposure and improve school safety.

Pennsylvania follows both federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and state regulations regarding the use, handling, and disposal of asbestos. Schools in Pennsylvania must conduct regular asbestos inspections and take immediate action if exposure occurs. Only certified individuals may perform asbestos abatement projects.

The Philadelphia School District has closed multiple schools and conducted thousands of projects to remove asbestos. In June 2022, the district received $1.1 billion from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. It will use $325 million of this fund to address the condition of its buildings, including asbestos hazards.

In May 2022, the Philadelphia City Council voted in favor of Bill No. 210685-AA. This ordinance amends the Philadelphia Building Construction and Occupancy Code to strengthen safety requirements for school facilities:

  • Every three years, safety inspectors must now certify that each school follows best practices for working with asbestos. This inspection covers the testing, abatement, remediation, cleaning, and management of asbestos.
  • One-third of Philadelphia’s schools will undergo an asbestos inspection each year. The results of the inspection will be available to the public within ten days.
  • A new Facility Safety and Improvement Advisory will oversee the testing and remediation process for asbestos in Philadelphia schools. This board will also make recommendations to address asbestos and other building hazards.

While the Philadelphia School District has taken action to improve the safety of its schools, it still needs to address the damage that asbestos has already caused. Mesothelioma is a serious disease that can impact all facets of a person’s life. Victims of asbestos exposure at Philadelphia schools deserve fair compensation for their damages.

Asbestos in Philadelphia Schools Today

In Philadelphia schools, asbestos exposure remains a major concern for teachers, students, and parents alike. The school district is taking action to remove and dispose of asbestos safely. Asbestos abatement projects are taking place in schools across the city’s neighborhoods, including North Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, and Kensington.

The Office of the Controller’s dashboard shows that over a dozen school asbestos projects are underway as of October 2022. For example, Franklin S. Edmonds School is undergoing a renovation scheduled to finish in December 2022. The Science Leadership Academy at Beeber is also undergoing a renovation with a scheduled completion date in February 2023.

It is unclear when the district will fully address the asbestos crisis in Philadelphia schools. The recent ordinance from the City Council is a promising step in the right direction. There is likely to be greater transparency regarding asbestos testing and removal. Philadelphia schools may also benefit from thousands of renovations that have taken place since the asbestos crisis first came to light.

Regular testing and prompt remediation can prevent asbestos exposure from developing into something much more serious. However, the district has shown a substantial failure to address asbestos in Philadelphia public school facilities. Schools like McClure Elementary have closed because their first renovations failed to adequately resolve the asbestos risk.

Many Philadelphia schools are still battling asbestos. Despite new regulations and the uproar surrounding this crisis, teachers and students may still be at risk of asbestos-related illnesses. Therefore, the district must continue to ensure the safety of its facilities on a continuous basis.

What Parents and Teachers Can Do about Asbestos in Philadelphia Schools

As a teacher or parent of a Philadelphia student, you may wonder what you could do about the asbestos crisis. Asbestos can pose a significant hazard to your health, and exposure can lead to serious illness and even death. Schools must inspect their buildings regularly and conduct school renovations if any dangerous conditions arise.

If you have a concern or questions about asbestos in Philadelphia schools, you have many options available to you:

  • To file a complaint, you can contact the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s asbestos hotline at (215) 685-7576. You can also report the incident to the Philadelphia School District’s Department of Environmental Programs and Services at (215) 400-4730.
  • Many community groups have prompted the Philadelphia School District to act against asbestos. Consider joining a protest or community organizing event to fight for better conditions at Philadelphia schools and educate the public about this widespread crisis.
  • Education can be a powerful tool. Take the time to learn more about asbestos fibers, their dangers, and their prevalence in building materials. Share this information with your community to raise awareness about asbestos in Philadelphia schools.

If you develop mesothelioma after working at or attending a Philadelphia school, you may have the right to pursue legal action. By filing a lawsuit against the school district and other liable parties, you could recover a settlement for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages. If you want to file a lawsuit, you should seek legal help as soon as possible.

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help you determine whether you qualify for a lawsuit and take your first steps. They will represent your best interests during each stage of your case and fight to recover the settlement that you deserve. To protect your case, you should speak to an attorney as soon as you can after your mesothelioma diagnosis.

Contact Cohen, Placitella & Roth with Your Asbestos Exposure Case

Asbestos exposure is a serious problem that has affected many people, including students and teachers. If you or a loved one taught at or attended a Philadelphia school and later received a mesothelioma diagnosis, you deserve justice. The asbestos attorneys at Cohen, Placitella & Roth can help you pursue a lawsuit and recover fair compensation for your losses.

We seek justice for our clients guided by a shared goal of doing what’s right and making a positive, lasting impact on their lives. If you have a question about asbestos exposure or would like to consult with us, contact us online or give us a call at (888) 560-7189.

Cohen, Placitella & Roth Law Offices take on – and win – the fights that others think can’t be won. Our team of lawyers has earned a distinguished reputation for achieving life changing outcomes by combining decades of experience, tenacity and fresh strategic perspectives to each case we undertake. We champion and seek justice for our clients guided by a shared goal of doing what’s right and making a positive lasting impact on their lives.