City Council passes bill to require more asbestos inspections in Philly schools

The school district opposes the bill, saying asbestos is already tightly regulated, and the bill will only complicate things.

The new bill would require more frequent asbestos inspections in Philly schools. (Karimala/BigStock)

The new bill would require more frequent asbestos inspections in Philly schools. (Karimala/BigStock)

Philadelphia City Council has unanimously passed a bill that would require additional inspections for cancer-causing asbestos in Philly schools.

The bill adds asbestos to the yearly inspections required for publicly funded educational buildings in the city to be certified for occupancy.

At-large City Councilmember Derek Green, the bill’s sponsor, said at Thursday’s meeting he introduced the bill because he expected the District to make more progress addressing asbestos while schools went remote during parts of the pandemic.

“Then as we came back into our Council session in 2021, and prior to that…when my son was going back to school like a number of other children around the city of Philadelphia, we learned that the asbestos issue was still a very significant problem in our schools,” he said.

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Council passed an amendment to the bill last week that further defines and expands the role of an advisory group the bill creates. Green had considered amending the bill to include inspections for lead paint, but decided to let the advisory group make recommendations about that, said Frank Iannuzzi, a staffer in Green’s office.

The School District of Philadelphia, which has had repeated issues with damaged asbestos materials found in its aging facilities, opposes the bill. District leaders argue asbestos and lead paint are already tightly regulated, and that Green’s bill would only complicate things and make compliance harder.

Currently, the District conducts surveillance inspections of asbestos-containing materials in its buildings every six months and comprehensive inspections every three years, in compliance with federal law, and posts reports on its website. In addition, city inspectors look for unsafe asbestos conditions before and after construction work affecting known asbestos-containing material, or in response to complaints.

But under Green’s bill, the city Health Department or a testing agency certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry would inspect school buildings each year for unsafe asbestos conditions — alongside the inspections already required for factors such as fire safety and water quality.

District leaders also take issue with the advisory body the bill would create, which would include parents, students, and union representatives, alongside district officials. The amended version allows the group to review and make recommendations on the inspection process and identify other hazards not specified in the bill.

“[The bill] relies upon undefined ‘best practices’ to be supervised by an advisory board of non-experts that would put the District in direct conflict with the federal law governing asbestos management for buildings in every school district in the nation,” said school district spokesperson Christina Clark, in an emailed statement before the bill was amended.

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If the bill gets the Mayor’s signature, the new asbestos inspection requirements would go into effect over the next three years. A spokesperson said the administration is supportive of the bill.

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