Teacher Lea DiRusso knows she won’t survive mesothelioma, but hopes Philadelphia schools makes good on its promise to protect students and staff from asbestos.
Lea DiRusso stared at the form in front of her, stuck on the words her doctor wrote to explain why she had to retire early from her career as a Philadelphia School District teacher: incurable mesothelioma.
“Incurable, incurable, incurable,” DiRusso said Tuesday. “It was echoing in my head.”
DiRusso, 51, spent her 28-year teaching career at two South Philadelphia elementary schools with known crumbling asbestos that the school system had largely papered over for decades. It’s been nearly nine months since she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos.
She became the public face of the school district’s failure to protect teachers and students from environmental hazards inside its aging buildings. DiRusso wants her death to mean something, her diagnosis to be an impetus for Philadelphia finally ridding its schools of the carcinogen.
But she worries that the district’s continued shoddy containment and removal work imperils that possibility.
“It’s like holding a grenade in your hand, and you’re pulling the pin out,” DiRusso said. “Do people not understand that this is deadly? Let me tell you, it is.”
Last month, workers began to remove asbestos fireproofing from steel beams that support the ceilings inside Bethune Elementary School….
Test results showed alarming levels of asbestos inside the gym. Worse, air samples taken outside the sealed work area, including in a hallway that leads to the school’s cafeteria and a food pickup spot, tested even higher — in fact, air samples ranged from five to 10 times higher than what city health officials deem safe, according to air-sampling logs and laboratory results.
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