The Scranton School District issued a press release (PDF) on January 30, indicating that Northeast Intermediate, Frances Willard Elementary, and Robert Morris Elementary were being closed due to environmental concerns, with media reports indicating the problems were related to asbestos and lead contamination issues. In addition, the district also announced that Prescott Elementary would be closed today.
According to district officials, Morris and Prescott were closed for remediation and removal of pipe fittings. Willard Elementary was closed due to wall and ceiling deterioration, and Northeast Intermediate was closed for asbestos testing. The district indicates all of the schools will be reopened after affected areas are stabilized and air quality tests indicate conditions are safe.
The closures came just days after The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and other union groups filed an asbestos lawsuit against the Philadelphia School District and it’s superintendent, William R. Hite, Jr., for failing to meet legal obligations to adequately test for, and remove, asbestos from buildings throughout that district. In addition, the teachers’ union said it was being prevented from seeing test data.
In Philadelphia, six schools have been temporarily closed at some point since the school year began last Fall. The Laura H. Carnell School and the Alexander K. McClure School were closed in late December due to the discovery of asbestos contamination. Carnell was reopened on January 13, and McClure was reopened on January 15, however, additional testing revealed McClure to still contain high levels of airborne asbestos fibers, forcing it to close just two days later, on January 17. It remains closed as of the filing of the lawsuit.
Asbestos was widely used in American commercial product manufacturing throughout the 20th century and was embedded in thousands of products before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began passing regulations on asbestos in the 1970’s when research linked asbestos exposure to mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos fibers has been linked to a number of forms of respiratory illnesses and cancer, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Currently, asbestos is banned for use in corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, and specialty paper, flooring felt and new commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989. However, even though the fibrous material is toxic even in small amounts, it is still in use in some industries. It is frequently used in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles and roofing materials.
Although asbestos has been banned in more than 60 countries, and is the number one cause of work-related deaths in the world, the United States still continues to import and use the cancer-causing material in every day products, despite recognizing its potential dangers more than 40 years ago.