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Rules for Asbestos in Schools Unveiled

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WASHINGTON--The Environmental Protection Agency plans this week to issue long-awaited rules that would require all public and private schools to inspect for hazardous asbestos by July 1989 and to remove or contain it if found.

The proposed regulations, scheduled for publication in the April 29 Federal Register, are being issued in response to landmark legislation passed by the Congress last year that ordered the E.P.A. to require the nation's 107,000 schools either to remove or minimize the danger of asbestos on school property. Prior laws and regulations required schools only to inspect for the potentially cancer-causing mineral and to notify parents and employees when it was detected.

Spokesmen for public and private education groups said last week that, although they were generally pleased with the proposed rules, they were troubled by the relatively small amount of federal aid available for cleanup efforts.

The Congress has earmarked about $50 million in each of the past three years for a separate asbestos-control and -abatement program, which the Reagan Administration is seeking to abolish. Officials at the environmental agency estimate that the training, inspection, and maintenance required under their plan would cost schools nearly $3.2- billion over the next 30 years.

The existing level of federal aid "doesn't even come close'' to meeting projected school needs, said Edward Keeley, a lobbyist for the National School Boards Association. "Many communities are going to have to bear this burden on their own.''

Kellan Flannery, a lobbyist for the Council for American Private Education, added that the new federal mandate could force some small private schools to close if federal funding for the effort is not increased.

"The asbestos-abatement requirement will unduly strain the tightly drawn budgets of many nonpublic schools,'' Ms. Flannery predicted. "Sixteen percent of all private schools have fewer than 50 students. It's easy to see that, in some of these cases, the question will be whether the school will remain open.''

Both lobbyists said their groups and others would attempt to encourage the Congress and the Administration to earmark $125 million for asbestos-cleanup loans and grants, the full amount possible under the program's authorizing act.

Mr. Keeley added that he hoped that, "as the full burden becomes more obvious during the next two years, the Congress will consider funding the program at a level that matches the reality of the costs.''

Officials at the E.P.A. outlined the main provisions of the new rule, which will become final on Oct. 17, at a press briefing here last week. Under the agency's proposal, all school districts and private schools would be required:

  • To hire an accredited inspector to search their buildings for asbestos-containing materials. Schools would be exempted from the requirement under certain conditions.
  • To select "an appropriate response action'' for asbestos discovered by the accredited inspector.
  • To develop an asbestos-management plan for every school. The plan must be developed by an accredited asbestos-management planner, and must be submitted to state officials for approval by Oct. 12 of next year. Districts and private schools must implement their plans by July 9, 1989.
  • To monitor every six months the condition of asbestos left in place. Trained custodial workers could conduct the inspections. Re-examination of the material by a licensed inspector would be required every three years.

The proposed rules would also outline accreditation standards for inspectors and asbestos-removal contractors and training standards for school custodians; set standards for exposure to asbestos particles in the air; and provide waivers to states that already have asbestos-control programs "at least as stringent'' as the federal government's.

Failure to comply with the requirements would result in fines of $5,000 a day; or, if there is deliberate deception or a refusal to permit federal inspections, $25,000 a day.

The E.P.A. will accept comments on the proposal for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. They can be addressed to the Document Control Officer (TS-790), Office of Toxic Substances, the Environmental Protection Agency, Room NE-G004, 401 M St., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20460. The docket-control number is OPTS-62048C.

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