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E.P.A. Agrees To Consider New Asbestos Rule

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Washington--The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will reopen the rulemaking procedure on asbestos in the schools to determine whether it should issue a rule requiring the containment or removal of the potentially hazardous substance.

The announcement, made by William Ruckelshaus, epa administrator, came several hours after the National Education Association announced that it would file a "citizens' petition" with the agency in an attempt to force it to issue such a rule. The petition was announced as part of a new nea program intended to hasten, in one way or another, the elimination of asbestos as a potential threat to schoolchildren and employees.

Other components of the nea program include the support of federal legislation to fund removal, the mounting of a major publicity drive about the situation, establishing a clearinghouse for information on school asbestos, and working with other unions to promote asbestos removal.

The epa action came in response to a petition filed several months earlier by the Service Employees International Union, which sought a removal rule for schools and other public buildings. The petition was filed under section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which allows ''any person" to petition the epa to "commence an appropriate proceeding."

Building Inspection

The reopened procedure announced last week will also consider the question of whether the agency should require the inspection of both public and commercial buildings.

"The epa is in full agreement with the goals of the petition and intends to insure that human health is protected to the fullest extent possible where asbestos is concerned," Mr. Ruckelshaus said in a statement.

"What we're doing is re-examining our position," said a spokesman for the epa When the rule requiring inspection and notification of parents and staff members was issued in 1982, he said, epa officials believed that the "optimal solution" with respect to asbestos control in the schools was to handle it on a case-by-case basis because of the great variation in the nature of the problem at different schools. Now, he said, "we're willing to question our assumptions."

The next step will be to issue a formal statement on the reopening of the procedure, which will appear in the Federal Register. That will be followed by a period of public comment and a public hearing to be held in about 60 days.

Currently, no federal agency requires the removal of friable, or crumbling, asbestos from schools. The 1982 epa regulation required school officials to inspect schools for the presence of asbestos and notification of parents and staff members if it was found and not dealt with before last June 28.

Several recent internal reports from epa have found that many schools, perhaps two-thirds, have not complied with that requirement.

'Step One' Taken

Officials of the teachers' union said they are pleased that the agency had responded to the earlier petition, but noted that the action does not mean that the abatement rule sought by the association will be forthcoming.

"Unfortunately, we don't expect a rule to be issued pronto," said Robert Chanin, nea general counsel. "They've taken step one, but they took that step several years ago," he added, referring to epa's earlier plan to require the removal of asbestos from schools.

As a result of the agency's announcement, the nea will probably not file its own petition but will become an intervening party on the petition filed by the service employees' union.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, nea president, noted that the association is also working on model contract language that addresses the issue of asbestos removal.

The use of such language in collective-bargaining agreements would then allow employees to use grievance procedures if school officials do not eliminate hazards associated with asbestos.

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