Philly school teacher plans to file suit after asbestos-related cancer

An Asbestos warning sign

A local teacher says she is planning on filing a lawsuit against the school district of Philadelphia after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer that is primarily caused by asbestos exposure. 

Lea DiRusso, 51, told outlets that she is suffering from peritoneal mesothelioma, which invades the lining of the abdomen. says that around 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and patients have a median survival of one year. 

DiRusso has completed three rounds of chemotherapy, which began in September.  

It was reported that DiRusso worked at a 90-year-old school, Meredith Elementary. She previously worked for Nebinger, another older school in the district. reports that the school had asbestos, a leaking pipe, and peeling paint, and when DiRusso would hang artwork from students, bits of white flakes would fall down. 

DiRusso has been teaching 28-years and told outlets that, “When you come into a room on a Monday morning, and you’re starting to set up, and you see dust across your desk, or dust on the ground or a ceiling tile fell, as a teacher, this is your pride and joy, it’s your room.” 

She added that, “You just scoop it up, you clean it up, and you move on.” 

It was reported that her classroom has a history of damaged and unrepaired asbestos pipe insulation. Although DiRusso might have been exposed to asbestos from other sources, multiple doctors told that the environmental issues were likely a “significant contributing factor” to her mesothelioma. 

The School District of Philadelphia told ABC that, “The district realizes that it has a serious challenge with asbestos in our more than 200 school buildings. Our goal is to have the best notification system possible, to have the most effective response possible, and to eventually remove as much asbestos from our schools as possible.”

Earlier this week, Dr. William Hite, the superintendent of the school district of Philadelphia, announced a new Environmental Safety Improvement plan to combat asbestos in Philly schools. It goes into effect on Dec. 20.

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