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E.P.A.: Asbestos Advisers May Be Scarce

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WASHINGTON--There may be a shortage of qualified consultants available to help public and private schools in some parts of the country meet the first deadline of the new federal asbestos law, an Environmental Protection Agency official told two Senate panels last week.

The law, which went into effect in December, requires all schools to inspect their buildings for the potentially hazardous substance and to submit management plans to state authorities by Oct. 12 of this year.

In recent weeks, however, some have questioned whether there are enough consultants and whether schools have received sufficient guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency to meet the deadline. (See Education Week, March 2, 1988.)

Congressional critics of the law have introduced three bills that would extend the deadline by as much as 18 months, and education organizations representing administrators and school-board members have been lobbying for an extension.

Not a 'Good Match'

Last week, at a joint hearing held by the Senate's Hazardous Wastes and Toxic Substances and Superfund and Oversight subcommittees, both legislators and education groups were divided over the merits of extending the deadline.

John A. Moore, the agency's assistant administrator in the office of pesticides and toxic substances, offered testimony that seemed to support the views of those who argue that some districts will not be able to comply with the October deadline.

Although approximately 5,000 people had passed E.P.A.-accredited courses for inspectors and management planners as of Feb. 1, and another 10,000 are expected to be trained by the end of May, Mr. Moore said, the agency cannot accurately estimate how many of these consultants will be working on school projects.

Mr. Moore said the agency also cannot predict whether the consultants will be evenly distributed throughout the country.

"I'm not sure that all the inspectors are in the right place to do all the inspections,'' he said. "It's not a good match, by any stretch of the imagination.''

The agency official also hinted that the E.P.A. may use wide discretion in fining districts that do not comply with the law. According to the regulations, the agency can levy fines of up to $5,000 per day for each violation.

But E.P.A. officials may decide to waive part of the fine if school districts have shown a "good faith effort'' to meet the law, he said.

'A Last Resort'

Representative James J. Florio, Democrat of New Jersey, and one of the primary drafters of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986, argued against allowing a blanket extension for all school districts.

As "a last resort,'' he said, he would support extensions for districts that could be shown by the E.P.A. to have made a "good faith'' attempt to comply with the law.

"There are some problems with the asbestos-in-schools program,'' he said, "but I am not yet convinced that they require a change in the deadlines.''

Representatives of the National Education Assocation and the National PTA also spoke out against the proposed legislation.

Congressional aides said last week that a hearing on a House bill to extend the deadline may be held later this month.

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