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Private Schools' Compliance Low In Asbestos Tally

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Washington--More than one in five schools missed the first deadline of the federal asbestos law, the Environmental Protection Agency reported last week.

Of the 79 percent of all U.S. schools that met the deadline, about half submitted asbestos-management plans and half asked permission to submit them by a later date, the agency said.

Most of the 21 percent that missed the deadline were private institutions. According to the epa report, as of the Oct. 12, 1988, deadline date, those schools had neither submitted a management plan to state authorities explaining how they were going to remove or control their asbestos, nor asked for a deferral of up to seven months.

Schools that missed the deadline will receive a "notice of noncompliance" from the agency and will have 60 days to document their efforts. Those that persist in noncompliance, the agency has said, could face fines as high as $5,000 a day.

The compliance rate of private schools may have been lower, said Carol Ruppel, the executive assistant at the Council for American Private Education, because some lacked the information, money, and personnel to accomplish all of the law's required tasks.

"There are a lot of private schools that don't always have a good information network," she said.

"And public schools can float bonds to pay for this," she added. "Private schools can't."

The stringent asbestos law adopted by the Congress in 1986 required that every school in the nation be inspected for asbestos. It required school officials to submit management plans by last fall and to begin implementing their plans by July 1989.

After districts and some education associations complained that the first deadline was too tight, the Congress last summer amended the law to allow schools that had made a "good faith" effort to comply with the measure to request deferrals until May 9. But the deferral requests were also required by the October deadline.

The Congress mandated that the epa collect information about states' compliance rates.

According to the report, which includes information from 44 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, about half of the schools that met the first deadline submitted management plans and4about half requested deferrals.

Of the 21 percent of schools in noncompliance, 14 percent submitted nothing to state authorities and 7 percent had their deferrals rejected or submitted their information after the deadline.

In a statement released by the epa, agency officials said they were generally pleased with the compliance rate.

"Most of our nation's schools have been very conscientious about epa's asbestos rules," the statement reads. "For those schools that haven't been, we have a detailed enforcement strategy to protect schoolchildren from exposure to asbestos."

The epa's compilation found wide variations by state in the percentage of schools that met the first deadline. The data, which do not separate the compliance rates of public and private schools, show that all schools in Arkansas, West Virginia, and the Virgin Islands met the October deadline, and that 99 percent of the schools in Nebraska and Wyoming were in compliance.

A total of 16 states had compliance rates of 90 percent or higher.

In contrast, five states--Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Virginia--as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, had noncompliance rates that exceeded 40 percent.

In the states with the highest compliance rates, on average, many more districts submitted management plans than sought deferrals.

A separate epa document, which agency officials said last week was not yet in its final form, shows dramatic differences in the compliance rates of public and private schools in 19 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

According to this document, all public schools in 10 states and the three other locations have met the October deadline. But private-school compliance rates in 10 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia hover at or below 70 percent.

Agency officials said that private schools lagged behind public schools because they were less likely to be informed about the law's requirements and because some had found compliance too financially taxing.

Agency officials said they had no plans to create special informational programs for private schools. By last week, they said, the epa had begun to send out notices of noncompliance to all schools that did not meet the deadline.

Richard Duffy, the staff associate for educational/institutional concerns at the U.S. Catholic Conference, said the schools his organization represents would face even greater fiscal problems when "the other shoe drops"--when schools will be required to start implementing their plans.

"We anticipate that when it comes to abatement efforts, we will have some difficulty," he said.

Although most schools were able to meet the law's first hurdle, anecdotal evidence suggests that both schools and states may be having problems meeting all of the law's requirements.

In Pennsylvania, an audit by a regional epa office has found, little has been done to review plans submitted by schools. Due to a shortage of personnel, as of mid-December, only 3 out of the more than 400 management plans submitted by the deadline had been reviewed, said Dennis Dealy, the office's supervisory auditor.

All three plans were returned to the schools for further modifications, he said.

Late last week, Gov. Robert P. Casey gave $200,000 to the state's Department of Environmental Resources to hire 10 new reviewers.

The audit, which compared Pennsylvania's asbestos program to those in surrounding states, reported that 90 percent of the plans submitted to Maryland authorities were also rejected, said Mr. Dealy.

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