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Ohio Schools Flout Asbestos Law, Union Poll Says

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The results of a union-sponsored survey of school custodians and maintenance workers in Ohio suggest that many schools there are not complying with the requirements of the federal asbestos law.

The study, conducted by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, found that many of the school workers questioned did not know the location of the asbestos in their buildings and had not been given the training or equipment needed to handle materials containing the hazardous substance.

About half of the 446 workers surveyed also indicated that their districts required them to perform custodial or maintenance activities prohibited by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986.

That law requires schools to inspect for asbestos and to file management plans with state authorities. Schools were to have begun implementing the plans by last summer.

Ahera also requires schools to provide awareness training for service workers in school buildings, and to conduct all asbestos-related activities--from routine maintenance duties to full-scale removal projects--according to set procedures.

Joseph Rugola, executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, an affiliate of af.scme, called the survey findings ''really disturbing."

"What [schools] should have done on their own, they're not," he said.

Although 84 percent of the school workers had received asbestos-awareness training, one-quarter of those trained said they had not been told where all the asbestos-contain8ing materials were located in their buildings. Providing such information is one of the main purposes of the training program.

The study found, in addition, that only 30 percent of the custodians and maintenance workers who were expected to clean up small amounts of asbestos had been properly trained and issued a respirator, which is required by the law.

Only 13 percent of the workers expected to clean up larger amounts of asbestos had received the three days of training required and a respirator, the survey showed.

The study concluded that many Ohio districts have been lax about meeting the law's requirements because officials believed it unlikely that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the law, would be able to enforce it.

Mr. Rugola maintained that the study's results should push the state and the federal government to invest more money in training, technical assistance, and enforcement.

James August, a health and safety specialist at afscme, said workers in Ohio were surveyed because the union had heard that there were numerous violations of the law there.

Epa officials said they could not comment on the survey because they had not seen it. But they said they were unaware of any evidence of widescale violations of the asbestos law in Ohio.

In a related development, theMichigan legislature is considering a measure that would attempt to limit the number of schools undertaking asbestos-removal projects.

Michigan Bill

The bill was prompted by reports that schools were considering costly and potentially hazardous removal projects in the absence of real need as a way of avoiding future liability.

Under the bill, schools could remove asbestos only if: the amount exceeded a certain level, or the cost of encapsulation or enclosure exceeded the cost of removal by more than 50 percent; removal was required as a result of renovation or demolition; or the asbestos was severely damaged.

The federal law does not require schools to remove asbestos; it requires those containing asbestos to have operations and maintenance plans.

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