The Philadelphia teachers union has been demanding the school district find better solutions to asbestos removal in the district. In January 2020, the union decided to sue the school district over their handling of asbestos, lead and mold in the district, which has led to illnesses and schools closing.
The district has begun a process of reopening of the schools after the cleanup and testing process was rife with flaws and safety checks, according to the complaint.
In the filing, the teachers union is requesting that a third party be appointed to address and verify the asbestos concerns of the parents and teachers. They are specifically requesting that these third party experts be hired by the Philadelphia Federation of teachers to work alongside district officials in the cleaning and testing.
In addition to the initial testing, the teachers union is seeking regular ongoing environmental testing as well as an adaptation of best practices for conducting inspections as well as procedures for public reporting of potential asbestos exposure. The union's attorneys are alleging that the district has not even complied with their standards of testing and remediation, according to CBS Local, Philadelphia.
This lawsuit is the latest in a series of ongoing issues with the district regarding their lack of ability to accurately find solutions for asbestos and other hazardous compounds in the district schools. For example, Alexander McClure Elementary closed for remediation, then opened and closed again after more tests came up positive, according to PBS affiliate WHYY.
This news falls just after a Philadelphia teacher, Lea DiRusso announced plans in November to file a lawsuit against the district after her exposure to asbestos has allegedly caused her mesothelioma. According to ABC 6, DiRusso worked for the district for 31 years, including time in two of the buildings documented to contain asbestos.
In addition to ongoing problems with asbestos and mesothelioma, another student is suing the district for illness caused by ingesting lead paint chips that had fallen from the ceiling. The six-year-old child ate the paint chips after they fell from the roof, landing on his desk. He ate them to avoid getting in trouble for having a messy desk, says a report by the Philadelphia Enquirer.
In recent months, the state of Pennsylvania, as well as local governments, have begun taking some action to remedy these issues. According to World News, school officials unveiled a $12 million plan to increase the speed of removal of the asbestos aiming to complete the backlog of asbestos removal projects by the end of 2020.
With this increased attention and resources, many parents and teachers are not satisfied. With the ongoing testing showing more problems than initially realized and the initial slow response, many are not satisfied. The district’s own study in 2017 stated the cost would be almost $5 billion to clean up the damage.
What is not known is what is the long term health damage this has caused to the teachers and students of these schools. With mesothelioma from asbestos and lead claims just making their way to court in 2020, this problem is sure to grow as more cases of illness are uncovered.