Asbestos Closes Two Philadelphia Schools

The discovery comes after asbestos was found earlier this year in two other district-owned and -managed buildings that had incomplete or inaccurate records.   April 19, 2023

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor

Asbestos was once commonly used in construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant in institutional and commercial facilities, but it emerged as a health concern because it is released into the air and can be inhaled. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung disease. 

Two Philadelphia schools were closed immediately due to asbestos concerns amid a districtwide review of records on the potentially hazardous mineral fiber that was prompted by the discovery of asbestos at two other district buildings, according to KMA. The School District of Philadelphia announced that a high school and an elementary school would close their buildings because of the presence of asbestos. 

The two are "among two of the oldest buildings in the district" and for decades records have labeled that most of their buildings' plaster has "no asbestos detected" based on tests conducted in the 1990s, the district said. However, "new sampling conducted by inspectors shows that certain plaster walls and ceilings do, in fact, contain asbestos," the district said. 

"The district recognizes this new information may understandably raise questions and concerns," the district said. "It is not clear why the historic records contradict recent sampling results." 

The discovery comes after asbestos was found earlier this year in two other district-owned and -managed buildings that had "incomplete or inaccurate records," according to the district. 

During recent district-wide inspections, damaged asbestos was observed that required "immediate attention," and the schools shifted to virtual learning in March, school officials said. Simon Gratz Mastery Charter has since reopened to in-person learning, while work in Building 21 Philadelphia remains ongoing, officials said. 

Nearly 300 buildings in the Philadelphia school district were constructed or repaired when asbestos was commonly used, school officials said. There are 295 buildings that require three-year inspections under the district's asbestos management program; as of March 21, inspections remained at 59 buildings, school officials said. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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