School staff protest alleged ongoing asbestos exposure at Philadelphia school

School staff protest alleged ongoing asbestos exposure at Philadelphia school

Teachers, staff and parents at a school in Philadelphia, U.S., have gathered on the steps of their school to voice their concerns over asbestos-related safety concerns at the site.

Educators and parents at Julia R Masterman school took their tools outside and spent a day of professional development outdoors, hoping to raise awareness of their concerns to the school board.

Construction projects at the school are ongoing, and according to staff, there is rain coming through the building’s roof and ongoing dust from the construction work, with concerns of asbestos exposure. One teacher claims to have been struck by a piece of debris.

The School District of Philadelphia is the intended audience of the protest, but at a separate event, the district Superintendent William Hite said that he wanted to be clear, “the district has been in close communication with Masterman HSA reps and the [teachers union]. No known damaged asbestos remains in the school.”

The school district has said that the concerns of the teachers at the school are based “upon incomplete information or a misunderstanding of applicable regulatory requirements surrounding management of asbestos.”

However, staff and parents have criticised the district’s ‘lack of transparency’ and several Right-to-Know requests (similar to freedom of information requests in Australia) have been made.

In 2019, concerns were raised about asbestos at the school, but the issues date back as far as 1984 when the EPA fined the District for failing to properly post asbestos warnings at the school and a nearby learning centre.

The Director of Environmental Science and Occupational Safety for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Roseman, said he remains concerned about the ongoing debris found at the school.

“There are many questions about the asbestos conditions in this school, as there are in many other schools, that need to be answered,” said Roseman on Thursday.

Roseman also disagrees with the district’s summary that there is no known damaged asbestos at the site of concern.

“There is asbestos material throughout the school, some of it is damaged,” said Roseman, “and some of it is above those aforementioned ceiling tiles.”

The community at the school is calling on the school district to conduct an onsite evaluation or inspection of the affected areas; to work to identify problems if they arise and publicly communicate them; and to complete open data sharing on all environmental issues at schools moving forward.

“We’re intending to work on all of that, together,” said Roseman.

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