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E.P.A. To Disburse $45 Million To Aid Asbestos Removal

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Washington--Some $45 million in federal aid will be distributed to 199 school districts to help pay for asbestos abatement in 341 of the 4,800 schools that requested assistance, the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week.

Agency officials mailed letters to the grant and loan recipients last Thursday. Under the aid program, which was created by the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act of 1984, aid was to be given to schools with the most serious hazards and the greatest financial need.

According to Susan F. Vogt, director of the epa's Asbestos Action Program, agency officials worked seven days a week for a month to process the 1,100 applications for aid, which represented 4,800 schools and 8,300 proposed asbestos-cleanup projects totaling $530 million.

Ohio, with $8.25 million, received the most aid, followed by Texas, $5.13 million; Pennsylvania, $4.04 million; Louisiana, $2.29 million; and New Jersey, $2.21 million. (See list of recipients below.)

Proposed projects, Ms. Vogt said, were grouped under six hazard-priority categories; only those in the first three categories were eligible for aid.

According to Ms. Vogt, projects in the highest hazard category totaled $100 million, in the second hazard category $187 million, and in the third hazard category $96 million. That, she noted, was before agency officials analyzed the requests for aid.

The bulk of the aid, she added, was earmarked to cover projects in the first hazard category, although projects in the second and third categories were funded to meet mandated state mininums. About $8 million was earmarked to reimburse schools for projects that had already been undertaken and completed by Jan. 1, 1984.

Under the law, at least $250,000 had to be awarded to each state or entity with qualified applicants. Forty-nine of the 54 states and territories that bid on the money--including the District of Columbia, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs-- --were funded, Ms. Vogt said.

Virginia did not request aid and New Mexico and Utah were the only two states found not to have qualified applicants, she said.

Aid recipients in the poorest 25 percent of communities nationally will receive 100 percent of their requests, Ms. Vogt said. But the others, she added, will receive only part of the costs under a financial-need formula based on the district's per-capita income, the number of people in the district, and the projected cost of the abatement project.

No Request for Funds

Last August, Congress approved the first $50-million of a $600-million cleanup propgram created by the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act of 1984. The epa kept $5 million for administrative costs and is dispersing the aid in grants and no-interest loans repayable over 20 years.

Although only 7.1 percent of the

schools that requested aid received grant or loan assistance, the epa has not asked the Congress to fund the aid program beyond the first appropriation, Ms. Vogt said.

At the time the 1985 and 1986 budget requests had to be made, she said, the agency had not yet analyzed the requests for aid and did not know the scope of the need. The agency, she added, also did not want to give school officials an "incentive" to delay necessary asbestos-abatement projects by waiting for expected federal aid.

That view was echoed by John A. Moore, epa's assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances, in a prepared statement last week announcing the first award recipients.

"These grants will help our country's neediest schools eliminate a potentially serious threat to the health of students," he said. "I urge those schools that have not received grants or loans but that have severe asbestos problems to deal with them right away and not delay abatement projects in anticipation of future federal funding."

Nevertheless, some government and industry officials predict that asbestos-abatement work in schools throughout the country is in jeopardy because insurance companies are refusing to underwrite the activities of those involved in the work--including contractors, architects, consultants, and laboratory technicians. (See Education Week, May 22, 1985).

Roundtable Discussion

To address those concerns, the epa recently held a special roundtable discussion for contractors and insurance representatives. The meeting was closed to the press.

In an interview last week, Ms. Vogt said she was heartened to learn that some insurance is available, and more could be forthcoming.

But others pointed out that the Great American Surplus Lines Insurance Co. appears to be the only insurance carrier offering general-liability insurance for asbestos contractors. Officials of other companies say they will review the matter on a "case-by-case basis."

"I checked with 36 insurance companies and they all said 'no,"' said Henry W. Nozko Jr., executive vice president of the acmat Corporation of Hartford, Conn., which specializes in asbestos-abatement work.

Mr. Nozko said his company, an insurance company, and a diversified financial institution will announce within the next two weeks their plans to launch a new insurance company for asbestos contractors.

Contractor Certification

Others who attended the roundtable discussion said in interviews last week that while private-sector initiatives will do much to solve the problem, legislation is needed to limit the liability of contractors who meet specified standards for work practices and worker-protection, and to limit the amount of awards granted by the courts in asbestos-related lawsuits.

The epa, Ms. Vogt noted, is stepping up its technical-assistance efforts to encourage states to adopt contractor-certification and worker-licensing requirements. Only four states--Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Alabama--reportedly have such programs, although 14 others are said to be moving in that direction.

In addition, Ms. Vogt noted, aid recipients will have to document that the contractors they hire have been trained, have extensive experience in asbestos-abatement work, have revealed any notices of violations or involvement in legal proceedings, have explained any job terminations, and have instructed their workers in the proper uses of air respirators.

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