The PFT Health & Welfare Fund joined other partners from the Healthy Schools Initiative to testify before City Council on efforts to reduce lead levels in Philly schools.
Testimony RE: Philadelphia School Safety & Health Facility Conditions for Philadelphia City Council Hearings
Prepared by: Jerry Roseman, MSc. IH
Director of Environmental Science & Occupational Safety & Health for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund & Union PFTH&WF/U
Thank you for allowing me to provide information today about lead paint related hazards in the Philadelphia schools. My name is Jerry Roseman and I work as the Director of Environmental Science & Occupational Safety & Health for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund & Union. Because the PFT is part of the Philly Healthy Schools Coalition I also am providing information, and technical expertise and advice to school parent and community groups as well to other coalition members.
Since the summer of 2017 I have been involved in infrastructure-related environmental hazard inspections in about 70 schools. While many involved lead paint hazard assessments, concerns related to asbestos, mold, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning problems were also included.
Inspections are typically coordinated with the District’s Environmental Management Department and we have committed to working together to develop recommendations and solutions, We are now working closely with them on addressing problems that have been identified with the Lead Paint Stabilization Project as well.
Following a lead exposure situation that developed during the first week of November at Comly ES in which a 1st grader was exposed to peeling lead paint at school and became “lead poisoned” from paint chips that had fallen in his classroom, the PFT renewed long-standing recommendations to systematically and comprehensively assess and remediate all lead paint hazards district wide. Especially alarming was the recognition that because the lead paint damage at Comly was much less severe than at many other schools it was crucial that a broad-based effort was needed to protect students and staff.
Without our knowledge or involvement, in late November of 2017, the District decided to embark on a project to remediate lead hazards in about 29 elementary schools. The District developed their own plan and launched the Lead Stabilization program on December 4th starting lead paint repair work at 9 elementary schools and with all activities originally scheduled to be completed by the end of December. The approach they employed was in contrast to a successful lead stabilization effort previously implemented at several schools, including Mitchell, Paterson, Sheppard and Harrington, earlier in 2017.
Moving quickly to engage in an ambitious and accelerated project addressing a serious exposure hazard is worthy of credit. But it is important to understand that this work is highly complex with many affected parties, moving parts and interrelated pieces and posing significant challenges and potential dangers, particularly in occupied schools.
Unfortunately, there were significant problems with the execution of the Lead Stabilization Project. Lead paint particulate contamination was left in educational spaces, major delays occurred, there was too little coordination and communication with parents and school staff, and additional and unnecessary costs were incurred. There was also the need for lead workers and environmental monitors to have to return to the same schools and areas on multiple occasions to ensure work was successfully completed. These problems all could have been minimized or eliminated if there had been substantive involvement by expert stakeholders, and much improved coordination and communication with parents and school staff.
Here’s where we are today: OEMS has agreed to work together, in a collaborative and coordinated fashion, to redesign the project and to implement the necessary program elements including:
1) Conducting comprehensive and systematic environmental inspections in all 29 schools
2) Dramatically improving communication and coordination with school principals and educational and support staff moving forward
3) Ensuring open information and data sharing and review of Lead Stabilization work as it proceeds;
4) Closely monitoring and overseeing the lead stabilization work as it is performed, using independent environmental technicians employed by the District to verify and confirm all work has been conducted as per work scopes.
5) Providing comprehensive reporting and ongoing collaborative review of all project elements.
Additionally the PFT and Philly Healthy Schools Coalition partners intend to directly involve school staff in the process of problem identification and to help verify successful completion of lead stabilization work.
We think the lessons learned here, as well as those that came out of the Munoz-Marin and JB Kelly school closures related to mold and air quality, should inform and frame a better, more consistent and sustained set of approaches moving forward. The PFT and the Coalition are ready, and want to work with the District in a fully collaborative “all hands on deck” effort, but to be successful the District, at the leadership team level, needs to commit to improved transparency and communication and to participatory decision-making that includes expert and direct stakeholders in priority setting, planning and implementation and oversight for all infrastructure-related environmental hazard response projects.
The following photos accompanied Jerry Roseman’s testimony