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New York, D.C. Sue Firms for Asbestos Cleanup

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New York City and the District of Columbia have joined the lengthening list of cities that have filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against asbestos companies in an attempt to recoup the costs of removing asbestos from school buildings.

New York's city government and board of education last month jointly brought a $250-million state-court action against some 60 manufacturers and distributors of asbestos. The suit seeks to recover money that schools have already spent or will spend for abatement.

The District of Columbia last month sued asbestos companies for $400 million to recoup the money that city anticipates spending on asbestos cleanup in 162 school and administrative buildings. The city is also suing for punitive damages. Superintendent of Schools Floretta D. McKenzie has asked the city council for a supplemental appropriation of $5.8 million to finance abatement activities this school year.

New Wave of Suits

In the last few years, numerous school districts and cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, have sued asbestos manufacturers to recover the costs of containing or removing school-building asbestos.

The latest spate of suits follows the October decision of a federal district judge in Philadelphia to grant class-action status to a lawsuit brought by several school districts against 54 asbestos manufacturers. (See Education Week, Oct. 10, 1984.)

U.S. District Judge James M. Kelly's decision created a case in which all schools in the country are represented unless they choose not to be. A number of districts had been waiting for the decision before filing lawsuits of their own. If the judge had approved a "mandatory" rather than an optional class, school districts would not have been able to file individual suits.

Related Actions

Among other recent developments involving asbestos in schools:

Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey signed legislation last week that provides $10 million to clean up asbestos in the state's public schools. According to Paul G. Wolcott, a spokesman for the Governor, the measure requires districts to meet standards proposed by the Governor's Asbestos Policy Commission. (See Education Week, Oct. 17, 1984.) Those standards tell schools how to inspect for asbestos, when asbestos is hazardous, and what steps to take to clean up asbestos in their buildings. Mr. Wolcott said a final version of the standards is expected shortly.

A task force appointed by Ohio's superintendent of public instruction, Franklin B. Walter, has found that 2,800 of 4,700 Ohio schools have significant quantities of friable or potentially friable asbestos. The task force recommends that all asbestos be removed from schools by 1990, at an estimated cost of $200 million. The legislature is consider-ing a bill that would set removal deadlines and provide $60 million in the next two years for cleanup.

Lawyers for the Cincinnati and Cleveland school districts are also pursuing a class action on behalf of all primary and secondary schools in Ohio.

Recovering Damages

Washington State's superintendent of public instruction, Frank B. Brouillet, has requested that the state attorney general initiate a single action for recovering damages on behalf of schools with asbestos. The superintendent is also asking the legislature for some $20 million for asbestos removal, according to William H. Daley, Mr. Brouillet's administrative assistant.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, plans to sue more than 40 asbestos manufacturers and contractors for funds to create a medical-monitoring program for employees exposed to asbestos in the city's schools. The union's executive board voted last month to bring the class action before the city's common pleas court.

E.P.A. Funds

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has mailed application forms to every public-school district and private-school organization in the country as part of the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act of 1984. Qualified schools will be selected to receive grants and loans to abate their asbestos problems from the $50 million allocated by the Congress for the program.

The agency announced last month that it would distribute the money to the nation's schools by June 6. Susan Vogt, director of the agency's asbestos-action program, said the funds will be distributed to schools most in need of help.

The epa has suggested that local education agencies submit completed applications to their governor or his or her designees by Feb. 15. The governors must then establish a priority list of schools in their states based on the existing or potential threat from asbestos and submit their lists to the epa by March 15. Funds may not be requested for schools that completed abatement projects prior to January 1984, according to the epa

Ms. Vogt said that in determining grant allocations, the agency will use such criteria as the cost-effectiveness of the proposed project, the ability of the school to pay for asbestos removal or containment, and the degree to which the project will reduce exposure to asbestos.

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