December 19, 2019
PHILADELPHIA–For the second time this week, the School District discovered imminent asbestos toxins endangering the health and safety of schoolchildren and educators. The PFT was alerted this morning by the District’s environmental team of the discovery of asbestos hazards at Laura Carnell Elementary School, and PFT Health & Welfare Fund’s environmental scientist Jerry Roseman reported to the site to conduct a walkthrough and initial assessment. Not only was Jerry Roseman able to verify the imminent hazards identified by the district, he identified at least one additional severe hazard and potentially many more.
The PFT has urged the District to immediately work on a closure and relocation plan until we have data to assure us that the building at large is safe for occupancy. The Federation must be involved in next steps and must have access to all evaluation results. Inspection is underway this evening, and we look forward to receiving timely results.
Included in the observed hazards are crushed asbestos tiles in a maintenance closet and a staff bathroom containing severely damaged and unsafe asbestos insulation. In addition, imminent hazards were discovered in at least one classroom, to the point that our environmental scientist was unable to fully complete his evaluation, as he needed a protective respirator to do so. The PFT has recommended evaluation of at least eight other classrooms in the building due to concerns reported by teachers.
Upon the District’s confirmation of the hazards on Wednesday evening, the Federation should have been immediately notified. While the District has made efforts to promote open communication on these hazards, the unsystematic way the process has occurred is unacceptable.
PFT President Jerry Jordan noted, “Our members and families have submitted 1,596 concerns to our Healthy Schools Tracker App. Every step of the way, the Federation has been pushing for structural change to District operations in how they approach the facilities catastrophe unfolding in our schools. While we are making progress on some fronts, the situation at Carnell is deeply disturbing, as it once again reflects the urgent need for facilities investment but also the critical changes that are necessary in the identification and remediation processes.”
Elected leaders representing the school community also expressed their alarm and outrage.
“Based on the information I have received, I urge the District to immediately work with the PFT on a suitable relocation plan until such time as we can be assured that our students and staff will be safe in their building,” stated Councilwoman Cherelle Parker (9th District). “The health and safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance, and I stand ready to assist the District and PFT in any way possible. The toxic conditions in many of our school buildings is a public health crisis on par with both the gun violence and opioid epidemics and, as a member of the Fund our Facilities Coalition, I strongly believe it should be treated as such.”
Representative Jared Solomon (HD202) said, “In order to ensure the safety of our students and staff, the District must immediately remediate the imminent asbestos hazards at Carnell Elementary. With evaluations ongoing this evening, we do not yet have evidence of whether the building is safe to open tomorrow. I am prepared to offer any assistance needed to facilitate the process of securing the safety of Carnell students and staff. I commend the PFT for their dogged pursuit of safe and healthy schools, and it’s why I am a partner in the. The time to fund our facilities is now. Our children and educators cannot wait a moment longer.”
Congressman Brendan Boyle (CD2) also urged immediate action and said, “We cannot accept this as the norm. The Philadelphia School District has already had to close four school buildings in this year alone. Our schools should foster an environment that stimulates intellectual curiosity, but instead, our students and teachers are surrounded by health hazards. I will continue to stand with the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, as the need for immediate investment in our school facilities is beyond clear. We do not have time for excuses. If we want our children to grow, they need a safe place to do so.”
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