What to Know
- The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers called for an immediate $100 million investment to remove asbestos from Philly schools.
- The union says a veteran teacher's cancer may have been caused by asbestos exposure in her school's building.
- The Philadelphia School District said they are actively working to remove asbestos from schools.
Philadelphia’s teachers’ union says a longtime educator’s cancer diagnosis may have been caused by exposure to asbestos in her school’s building. They’re now calling for tens of millions of dollars to help fix the problem in other schools throughout the city.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and members of the Fund Our Facilities Coalition held a press conference Wednesday calling for an immediate $100 million investment to perform lead and damaged asbestos abatement in the city’s public schools.
“The figure makes up the bulk of the $170 million the Coalition has been calling for since May,” a union spokesperson wrote.
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The union said that a veteran teacher at Meredith Elementary School in the city’s Queen Village neighborhood was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer commonly caused by asbestos exposure. The union has not released the teacher’s name but said she also worked at another nearby school in the district.
The union claims asbestos has been detected in about 150 school buildings in the Philadelphia School District. While they did not confirm that the teacher’s cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos in her building, they did call it a “possibility.”
"The fact that we must seriously consider the possibility that the building is the culprit should alarm each one of us,” PFT President Jerry Jordan said. “This is a systemic issue with urgent needs that we must address. Disturbed asbestos has been observed and reported in schools across the district."
Jordan said the union plans to work with an environmental scientist and medical professionals to investigate potential cancer clusters.
“We’re talking about making sure that lead paint isn’t flaking off the ceiling onto children,” Coalition partner and Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila.) said. “We’re talking about making sure that fiberglass and mold aren’t attacking the health and safety of 10-year-olds. We’re talking about making sure that asbestos--one of the most dangerous compounds to human exposure-- isn’t killing our kids, isn’t killing our neighbors and isn’t killing our educators."
Parents of students at Meredith, which is a national blue ribbon school recognized for its outstanding environment, attended a back to school meeting Wednesday when they learned about the teacher’s cancer and possible asbestos exposure. Rhonda Harrison told NBC10 she’s still comfortable with sending her child to the school.
“If they are cleaning it, I’m fine with it,” Harrison said.
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District told NBC10 they perform vigorous inspections for asbestos in school buildings twice a year, conduct asbestos awareness training for its engineering staff and set aside nearly $21 million in 2019 for asbestos abatement.
The spokesperson also said there were 29 projects to remove asbestos from school buildings during the summer.
“We stand behind that our buildings are safe for students and staff to come to everyday,” the spokesperson said. “We have a robust team that’s addressing issues, concerns, requests for repairs.”