District evacuates Fishtown school over asbestos

Posted: July 25, 2014

STUDENTS HAVE BEEN removed from a Fishtown school amid concerns over asbestos removal, a district spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Students attending summer classes were told Wednesday not to report to Penn Treaty School, on Thompson Street near Berks, spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

At least 40 students were moved to the nearby Adaire School, at Palmer and Thompson streets, where they will continue to take classes, sources said.

Gallard said the action was taken in response to allegations by Jerry Roseman, an expert in occupational health and safety for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' Health & Welfare Fund.

Roseman and Arthur Steinberg, head of the PFT's Health and Welfare Fund, are concerned about the district's handling of a massive asbestos-removal project that has been underway since last fall at Penn Treaty.

Roseman told the Daily News that he "saw children walking within 15 feet of bags of asbestos waste" left Tuesday on a stairwell landing. The bags should have been be disposed of immediately in a trash bin, he said, adding that air samples at the school had significant levels of asbestos.

Gallard said the district was taking precautions even though Roseman's contention should not be an issue.

"It is not unusual for us to have an asbestos-abatement project and children in the same area," Gallard said.

Steinberg said the district was taking an adversarial approach to the issue.

"This administration treats us as adversaries and, obviously, they treat kids and parents with a lack of respect as well," Steinberg said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't allow this to occur."

The PFT alleges these health and safety issues exist at the school:

* Varied results between air samples taken by the district and the union, and protocols weren't followed.

* Other projects are also underway, adding more risk to the site.

* The district is less open and transparent about the project with PFT officials than in previous years when the two parties were more collaborative.

* The scope of the project has been troublesome, Steinberg and Roseman said. In addition to the four floors where asbestos must be removed in about 130 areas, workers are replacing the boiler system.

"It's exceedingly challenging and difficult, and not going smoothly," Roseman said.

The district disagrees. Gallard said a representative from the Department of Public Health's Asbestos Control Unit is on site every day.

Also, city Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran said that "the project is inspected by the city two to three times a week."

The Health Department's Air Management Services on Tuesday found some violations at Penn Treaty after the PFT voiced concerns. The department cited both the abatement contractor, Delta/BJDS, and the air-monitoring firm, Criterion Labs, for failing to have proper signage and for not properly securing a shaft-enclosure entrance, according to the citation records.

"The work is done under the eye of the Asbestos Control Unit," Gallard said. "We are very confident of the work done by the Health Department on behalf of the children of Philadelphia and making sure the district follows the regulations and programs for workers and individuals in the building."

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