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January 16, 2020

Philly's McClure Elementary reopens to additional asbestos concern

An unsealed attic potentially leaves school areas contaminated, teachers union says

UPDATE: Class has been cancelled for McClure Elementary today, Jan. 17, the School District announced in a press release this morning. Additional cleaning is now needed for the school, after tests last night showed air samples "slightly elevated" with asbestos levels.

Alexander K. McClure Elementary School in North Philadelphia reopened to students and teachers on Wednesday after three weeks of closure due to asbestos abatement. But additional tests initially revealed "alarming levels of airborne asbestos" were still in the building, according to the teachers union. 

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers announced its concern in a press release issued Thursday morning, claiming the School District of Philadelphia failed to follow best practice protocols during the abatement and remediation of the Hunting Park school. 

The elevated levels likely were caused by the failure to seal an attic suspected of being contaminated, exposing an adjacent classroom area, the teachers union said. A second round of tests, conducted between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 1 a.m. Thursday, came back negative. 

Though the initial samples – taken on Tuesday – revealed elevated levels, Jerry Roseman, the union's environmental science director, was not informed of them until after school concluded on Wednesday, according to the union. 

The attic was supposed to be sealed until the summer, when additional remediation efforts are slated to begin. 

Members of the McClure community expressed shock and anger that they may have been exposed again to asbestos, which can have severe medical side effects, including cancer. Many posted their reactions on social media. 

The PFT cited a similar issue on Monday, when Carnell Elementary School reopened in Northeast Philly. The union claimed the district failed to follow testing protocols and that Carnell also was reopened unsafely. At the time of the issue with Carnell, PFT said the district appeared to be following best practices with McClure. 

District officials have not commented on the issues or PFT's criticism since the schools reopened this week.