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E.P.A. Issues Statement on Tiles Containing Asbestos

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Washington--School personnel can remove waxy buildup from floor tiles containing asbestos without fear of releasing unsafe amounts of asbestos fibers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said last week.

The epa announcement came in response to a nationally televised report on the "NBC Nightly News" last week that suggested that stripping such floor tiles could release hazardous amounts of the cancer-causing fibers.

Floor tiles containing asbestos were used in many schools built before the early 1970's. The epa has maintained that the floor tiles, if in good condition and left undisturbed, pose no health hazard.

The news report was originally produced by WRC-tv, the NBC affiliate in Washington, which hired a consult4ing firm to assess the effects of several methods used to strip the floor tiles. After the floor tiles were stripped, the report said, the air was monitored for asbestos fibers.

The tests, conducted in a Montgomery County, Md., classroom, found dramatically higher levels of asbestos after an unwaxed floor was mechanically stripped using an abrasive pad.

Asbestos levels did not increase when the floor was only buffed, the television report said.

Robert M. Jordan, an environmental-protection specialist in the technical-assistance section of the epa's environmental-assistance division, said the agency has advised schools since 1985 to avoid stripping or sanding floor tiles.

He said an interim guidance policy statement, drafted in response to the television report, was scheduled to be sent to regional epa offices late last week.

According to the guidelines, schools that want to strip tile floors should ensure that their custodians are properly trained, that the tile is wet, that the wax-stripping machine is operating at a low speed, and that a nonabrasive pad is used.

Mr. Jordan, who acknowledged that the epa has not collected any data on how much asbestos is reel10lleased from floor tiles during routine maintenance activities, said the epa is considering studying the issue.

Up to now, he said, floor tiles have not been considered a "high priority area of study ... versus other materials that are more likely to be damaged."

Both Mr. Jordan and officials at Kaselaan and D'Angelo, one of the nation's largest asbestos-consulting firms, criticized the television study as having technical flaws.

"They generated a worst-case scenario," Mr. Jordan said.

Officials in several districts said they were altering maintenance operations until receiving more information from the epa

"We have suspended all stripping for precautionary reasons," said Kevin H. Gunning, a spokesman for the Montgomery County district.--ef

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