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Asbestos exposure a concern in Philadelphia schools

Many schools throughout the country were built using asbestos. If the material containing asbestos is in good repair and left undisturbed, it does not pose a problem. It is only when asbestos is “friable” (easily crumbled) that it poses a danger.

Unfortunately, many schools are in a bad state of repair, meaning that asbestos has become friable. This is the case in the School District of Philadelphia.

According to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, of 11 dust samples taken from elementary schools in January, nine tested positive for high levels of asbestos.

This is alarming, to say the least. The Inquirer also reported that damaged asbestos went unrepaired in schools for as long as two years.

Repairs not undertaken

The Inquirer tested for asbestos again in May. Shockingly, the number of asbestos fibers at Olney Elementary School went up from January. Dust samples taken from Olney revealed that repairs undertaken to a damaged pipe did not eliminate asbestos fibers from a well-traveled hallway. Instead, there was an increase of asbestos fibers found in the sample.

The school district’s response

According to The Inquirer, a district spokesman argued that the paper’s testing method was unscientific, and that air testing is the only federally required method of testing for asbestos. However, any dust sample that reveals more than 100,000 asbestos fibers can be cause for alarm, according to asbestos safety experts. It is certainly a reason to rigorously take further samples. In Olney, they found 10.7 million asbestos fibers in the dust sample tested.

It is concerning that asbestos fibers — which cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other serious illnesses — are being found in schools. Hopefully, children are not being exposed repeatedly to this carcinogen. Medical experts caution that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

The school district is aware of asbestos, and spent $5 million in asbestos repair work this school year. Hopefully, these repairs will help eliminate asbestos fibers in schools. Unfortunately, it appears to still be a significant problem.

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