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E.P.A. Grant, Regulatory Activities Underway

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On June 6, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will announce the first recipients of aid in a seven-year, $600-million federal program to support school asbestos-abatement projects.

The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act of 1984, signed into law last Aug. 11, authorizes the epa to distribute $50 million in grants and no-interest loans for the fiscal years 1984 and 1985. Another $100 million is authorized for each of the five subsequent years. The aid is to be distributed to local education agencies that demonstrate the greatest asbestos problems and financial need.

About 8,400 individual schools are vying for a piece of the first $45-million appropriation. The epa has reserved $5 million for administrative costs.

Meanwhile, in a dialogue on the Senate floor May 9, Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, chairman of the Budget Committee, assured Senator James Abdnor of South Dakota, a sponsor of the act, that the Congress would fund the second-year appropriation of $50 million.

In other action last week:

epa officials said they have entered into a cooperative agreement with Maryland officials to provide contractor-certification and licensing guidelines for dissemination to other states. The guidelines will be based on Maryland's program, which has been in effect for several years.

The epa is negotiating a cooperative agreement with New Jersey officials to help them evaluate their "assessment methodology," which is used to determine when asbestos-containing materials in a building need to be removed, encapsulated, enclosed, or just monitored. If successful, the guidelines will be disseminated to other states.

The agency will distribute $750,000 over the next few months to 10 to 15 states to help them establish contractor-certification programs.

Pilot training centers have been established at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and the University of Kansas, according to agency officials. The first training seminars are a one-day public-awareness course, a three-day course for on-the-job supervisors, and a five-day course for contractors.

The epa will release in June an updated guidance booklet for controlling friable, or crumbling, asbestos-containing materials in buildings. Unlike the previous guidance document, the new booklet recommends the use of transmission electron microscopy, a highly sensitive type of microscope, as the "scientific method of choice" in analyzing air samples upon completion of an asbestos-abatement project.

The current document recommends the use of the less-powerful phase-contrast microscope, which uses glass lenses and lights to magnify images, for post-abatement air sampling. It also recommends a clearance standard of .03 fibers per cubic centimeter of air; the new document recommends a standard of .01 fibers per cubic centimeter of air.

While recommending the use of transmission electron microscopy--which uses electronic beams and magnetic lenses to magnify images--for determining when a building is clean of invisible asbestos fibers, the new guidance document also notes that this is not always possible.

"Because of its cost, $300 to $500 a sample, and limitation on its availability, probably less than 10 labs in the country able to give routine service, and long turnaround time, two weeks or more, we understand building owners cannot rely on transmission electron microscopy to know when a contractor has completed his work," said David Mayer, chief of the asbestos-technical-assistance staff of the epa's Asbestos Action Program.

In those instances, he added, the epa will continue to recommend the use of a phase-contrast microscope.

Some consultants and contractors involved in asbestos work maintain that another type of magnification--scanning electron microscopy--is the only way to determine whether a building has been cleared of the invisible asbestos fibers that some say pose the greatest health risk. Transmission electron microscopy, they say, is more powerful and should be reserved for measuring asbestos levels in outside environments. (See Education Week, Sept. 26, 1984.)

For information about epa programs, call the Asbestos Action Program at (202) 382-3949.--lck

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