Letter to the Editor

Make school buildings safe again

Thanks to a report in the South Philly Review (“Lawmakers want answers on school closings,” May 10), I had to look up the words “Philadelphia House Delegation.” I learned that they are members of the Pa House of Representatives committed to working for the benefit of their constituents both in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The photo accompanying the article shows the whole delegation representing different districts in Philadelphia County and parts of Delaware County.

As the article states, the delegation chairwoman is Rep. Morgan B. Cephas. She is assisted by Vice Chairman, Rep. Danilo Burgos, and others, including Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler of South Philly.

Apparently, the delegation is alarmed by the recent news of school closings in Philadelphia due to the discovery of dangerous levels of asbestos. As a veteran of the School District of Philadelphia, who taught in buildings over a hundred years old, I have to wonder what took them so long to notice. There has been a known problem with asbestos in schools for decades.

Asbestos was a common substance placed behind walls, above ceilings and under floors to make buildings fire resistant. Asbestos exposure, however, can lead decades later to serious health conditions like lung cancer or mesothelioma. If a school was built before the 1980s, it likely contains some form of asbestos. If you check some of the cornerstones of schools all over town, you can see that many were built over a century ago.

Since the 1980s, when Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, the law requires school districts to inspect school buildings every 3 years, make plans to manage any asbestos, appoint a trained overseer and perform appropriate actions to prevent or reduce hazards. Of course all that costs money.

We should be heartened that someone like Rep. Cephas and her delegation are taking responsibility for tracking this problem and seeking the proper funding to make sure school buildings are safe. It is easy to talk. It is much harder to take action. As State Rep. Regina Young stated, “While some of us are seeking fair funding, we should also ensure that these public dollars are used in a fiscally responsible way. It is not OK to make demands without accountability.”

So thanks to the South Philly Review for covering this story. It is far from over. As more older buildings are inspected, there will certainly be asbestos problems that require closing and fixing. Let’s hope that the Philadelphia House Delegation continues to pressure the state to support this work and make all our schools safe places to learn and grow.

Gloria C. Endres