According to a recent investigation by the Inquirer and Daily News, environmental hazards in Philadelphia district schools continue to endanger children and school staff.
In January, two children at Loesche Elementary were rushed to the hospital after appearing lethargic and unresponsive. The children were diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, which they suffered when construction workers negligently repaired a leaking roof at the school. One of the construction workers had placed a portable generator next to the school’s air intake vents, causing odorless CO fumes to enter the building.
Children’s lungs are not fully developed; they are therefore especially vulnerable to toxic pollutants, which can cause various respiratory problems including asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends not performing major building renovations during school hours.
However, reporters discovered that Loesche Elementary, as well as other Philadelphia district schools, regularly perform major building renovations during school hours.
The investigation further revealed that the district has sometimes taken years to address reported environmental hazards such as asbestos, mold, rodent infestations and leaky pipes. When they finally addressed the hazards, contractors and district personnel often did so inadequately, leaving behind toxic materials including excessive dust and asbestos fibers.
The head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund ascribes the environmental hazards and resulting injuries to a persistent lack of oversight. The same contracting company doing the work at Loesche was hired by the district a few years earlier, and the workers had made the same mistake of leaving a generator too close to a window, letting toxic fumes into the building.
At another school, the construction company began a repointing job, which involved drilling out old mortar between bricks and replacing it with new mortar. Workers had to wear masks to protect themselves from exposure to silica, an extremely toxic form of dust that can cause lung disease, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Although workers covered the school windows with tape, and entrances with plastic sheeting, dust still seeped into the building. Nurses reported increased asthma attacks among students, and teachers suffered migraines and chest infections.
Brick-pointing work was also done during school hours at Hampton Moore Elementary School in 2017. Dust plagued the school throughout the school year, and testing on the dust revealed that it contained silica. Both the vice president of the construction company and the district’s environmental director say they want to make sure that brick-pointing dust does not get inside schools, and that they are taking steps to remedy the problem.
After a student at Watson Comly Elementary was hospitalized with a severe case of lead poisoning, the School Superintendent launched a lead-paint cleanup at 30 elementary schools. However, despite repairing the walls, workers left layers of dust on windowsills, desks, bookshelves and books. Testing on the dust revealed that it contained levels of lead 27.5 times higher than what the federal government considers hazardous.
Although the district’s goal is to provide safe and healthy schools, more reports of hazardous materials at Philadelphia schools continue to pour in, potentially subjecting thousands of young children to toxic environments.
If you or a loved one suffered toxic exposure, contact the experienced Philadelphia toxic tort lawyers at Williams Cedar. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 215-557-0099 or 856-874-7500 or contact us online. With offices located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey we represent clients in Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.