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E.D. Report Sets Asbestos Cleanup At $1.4 Billion

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A report from the U.S. Education Department to the Senate Appropriations Committee has estimated that it would cost $1.4 billion to remove asbestos from the approximately 14,000 public and private schools that contain the potentially hazardous substance.

The document, "Asbestos in the Schools: A Report to the Congress," is apparently the first attempt by a federal agency to provide the Congress with an estimated cost for asbestos removal, although the ed has prepared such estimates for internal use. Those estimates, according to a department official, were not substantially different from the $1.4 billion.

If the Congress funded a low-cost loan program authorized under the Asbestos School Hazard Detection and Control Act of 1980, the federal share of that cost would be $700 million, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by Education Week.

'Satisfying Solution'

According to the document, the $1.4-billion estimate is based on the cost of removal, rather than containment, which controls but does not remove the substance. "epa [Environmental Protection Agency] and many asbestos abatement experts believe removal of the asbestos-containing material is the only final and satisfying solution to the problem," the report states.

It estimates the average cost of removal at $100,000 per school.

The report acknowleges that "no firm data exist that will confirm this estimate" of 14,000 schools. Calculations of the costs are based on figures provided by New York State, where schools have spent an estimated $43 million on asbestos control.

Drawing on epa technical documents prepared for school officials, the report also describes various methods of controlling asbestos and outlines states' response to regulations. (See Education Week, Oct. 5, 1983.)

The appropriations committee, acting on a May 1983 request from Senator Walter D. Huddleston, Democrat of Kentucky, had asked the department to prepare a report that covered not only the potential cost of asbestos control or removal, but also the federal response to the problem thus far.

The report had not been sent to the committee by the time the Senate acted on the education appropriations bill.

Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., Republican of Connecticut, argued on the Senate floor that because the information was not yet available, the Senate should table an amendment offered by Senator Huddleston to provide $50 million for an asbestos-control loan program.

The amendment was subsequently tabled. However, knowledgeable sources say that the figures in the report had been made available to committee aides. Without the official report, however, opponents of the measure were given an "excuse" to delay funding an asbestos program, one Congressional aide said.

"The report, had it been out, would have given a big boost to Senator Huddleston's efforts," a spokes-man for the Senator said. He added that most senators were well aware of the problems experienced by school officials in dealing with the cost of asbestos removal. "I think the biggest concern in Kentucky is having to take money from instructional programs. They shouldn't have to decide between health and education."

An Education Department official said last week that the report was in the final stages of approval and would probably be sent to the Senate committee late last week. He said the department had not planned to change the figures before sending them to the Senate panel.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and author of the 1980 asbestos-control bill, suggested that the document supported the position that federal funds are needed.

"The department's report confirms what we have been hearing for some time now—that the asbestos problem is posing a tremendous financial burden to already hard-pressed school districts," Representative Miller said. "The question now is whether Congress will acknowledge its obligation to provide assistance to schools as they attempt to remedy this very grave threat to our children's health. I am hopeful that the Senate conferees will support the House's efforts to make loans available to school districts that cannot afford the high cost of removal."

Education Department officials have begun planning to administer the asbestos-control loans in case the Congress approves the funds.

"We are hurrying to be prepared in case there is an appropriation," said W. Stanley Kruger, deputy director for the department's state and local education programs. He said that if the Congress voted to provide the money, it would take the department about two months to get approval of the necessary application forms from the Office of Management and Budget.

School districts would probably be given 45 to 60 days to complete the applications, Mr. Kruger said, and the department would then require another two months to review the applications filed.

Department officials would probably set up a technical-inspection system to make sure that the work requested was the best way of dealing with the problem.

"In this case, we're a little concerned that there may be a tendency to contain rather than remove the asbestos. Our general preference would be for removal," Mr. Kruger noted.

He added that the department was concerned that the federal government not pay for the general remodeling that is often required after asbestos removal—installing new lighting in ceilings, for example.

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