District reviewing faulty, decades-old records of asbestos samples in Philly school buildings

Officials are conducting new building sample tests at nearly 200 schools
Masterman teachers protest asbestos conditions in Philly school buildings on Aug. 26, 2021.
Masterman teachers protest asbestos conditions in Philly school buildings on Aug. 26, 2021. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After finding inaccuracies in old files of school asbestos samples, the School District of Philadelphia is reviewing faulty record-keeping to determine if more school buildings require remediation.

At least six buildings have shut down — some for the rest of the school year — due to recent asbestos discoveries. The latest was at Universal Vare Charter School in South Philadelphia. Inspectors found damaged asbestos in second-floor ceiling tiles last week.

Classes finally resumed at Building 21 high school in West Oak Lane on Tuesday, two months after the school closed for asbestos removal.

The remediation work at Building 21 actually helped the district find inaccuracies in records of building samples taken in the early ’90s. Those samples were believed to not have any asbestos-containing plaster, but recent findings show they in fact do.

Tests and reviews of historic samplings from nearly 200 buildings are now underway to determine how accurate those records are and if they meet current standards.

Superintendent Tony Watlington said general inspections for asbestos are done every three years.

“Inspections can take up to two weeks in major buildings like high schools, with up to 3,000 areas to be inspected,” he said during an online public forum Monday night. “In the past, due to understaffing and resources, quite frankly, the district has struggled to keep pace with the inspections and the massive volume of related data and records.”

Oz Hill, district deputy COO, said the amount of asbestos found will determine whether or not remediation needs to be handled as soon as it is detected, and if staff and students need to be relocated.

“When we find a school with a change to its plaster status, that means we will go back into the buildings — and in some cases, we’ve already done this — to inspect areas of plaster for any damage,” he said. “This has led to the closure of some of our school buildings.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio