Carnell Elementary School will remain closed this week as Philadelphia School District officials scramble to fix damaged asbestos in dozens of locations throughout the building.
The decision came after district personnel and officials with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers spent several hours Monday walking through the Oxford Circle building. On the walk-through, they discovered new areas of damaged asbestos that will require attention, union officials said.
The school, on Devereaux Avenue, was closed on Dec. 20 when damage to asbestos-containing pipe insulation was flagged.
Carnell students will have missed eight school days if they return to class as planned Monday, Jan. 13, a date that depends on testing and inspection. Students can still come to the school building this week to pick up free breakfast and lunch between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., district officials said in a news release.
Carnell is the sixth Philadelphia school that has been temporarily shut because of asbestos. A seventh building — an early childhood education center — was also closed because of “imminent hazards” from asbestos.
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Jerry Roseman, the PFT’s environmental scientist, said the teachers’ union and the district were working on a plan to handle asbestos cleanup jobs going forward. That plan would, among other things, ensure that areas of damaged asbestos be identified and assessed in a uniform way; mandate the sharing of up-to-date information with the union; and focus on removing damaged asbestos instead of patching or containing it whenever possible.
Roseman, who spent most of the day at Carnell, said he and district representatives found “another couple dozen areas” of damaged asbestos, most small but some more significant, that had not been noted anywhere else.
“We’re looking harder now, and we start to see more,” Roseman said, noting increased public awareness of the risks posed by asbestos.
Asbestos is present in roughly 175 of the district’s 200-plus buildings. Undamaged, it poses no health risks; disturbed, however, it can release tiny fibers that can cause cancer and other ailments if ingested.
The widespread presence of asbestos has been an ongoing headache for the district, particularly this school year, beginning with the announcement of a district teacher’s diagnosis with mesothelioma, the asbestos-linked cancer, then with the discovery of damaged asbestos at the building housing Benjamin Franklin High and Science Leadership Academy.
The district has taken heat from parents, teachers, and others for its handling of asbestos cleanup. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has pledged quicker action and better response time.