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Department Awards Grants, Loans for Abestos Projects

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Washington--The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $45 million in loans and grants to 327 public and private schools for asbestos-abatement projects.

Since 1985, the agency has awarded a total of $201.8 million to more than 1,500 schools under the provisions of the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act.

Schools that received the aid had asbestos problems judged to be among the most serious nationally by the epa and had to be in the bottom 70 percent of all districts financially.

This year, 2,383 schools applied for the awards, which will be split between public and private schools in a ratio of approximately 9 to 1. The states receiving the largest number of awards over all are Illinois, with aid totaling $9.2 million, and Indiana, with $4.3 million.

Critics contend that the program has been underfunded since its inception. The epa has never sought funding for school-abatement projects, arguing that they are a state and local responsibility. But the Congress has approved annual appropriations exceeding $40 million for the effort since 1985.

Two years ago, an internal audit by the agency found that nearly one-ninth of the money distributed in 1985 and 1986 went to projects ranked as less than critical. Since then, the agency has granted awards only to those schools with the most serious asbestos problems.

In a related development, Representative James J. Florio, Democrat of New Jersey and one of the princi4pal backers of the 1986 legislation, has introduced a bill that would modify it.

The measure would require asbestos consultants to "provide assurance of financial responsibility for all liabilities" resulting from the work they do.

It would also bar companies that do air monitoring after an abatement project from having a financial interest in any company that has planned or carried out that activity.

The bill stiffens the requirements for those wanting to become asbestos consultants and directs the epa to develop a plan to monitor for possible health and safety violations by conducting random, on-site inspections of schools while asbestos-related activities are under way.

The bill also extends most of the rules for schools--including mandatory inspections and the development of management plans--to public and commercial buildings.

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, Superintendent of Schools Constance E. Clayton has called for the creation of a federal "superfund" to pay for asbestos-related activities.

At a press conference to announce her district's compliance with the federal asbestos law, which requires all schools to submit management plans to state authorities by this week, Ms. Clayton said that "without federal support, we will face a fiscal crisis of monumental proportions."

The district has spent $53 million on asbestos abatement and removal since 1984, and may have to spend an additional $40 million by 1995.--ef

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