Newsday (Melville, N.Y.) (pg. 15) [Printer-friendly version] June 25, 1986 TOUGH HOUSE BILL WOULD HASTEN ASBESTOS REMOVAL By Dennis Bell. Newsday Washington Bureau The removal of cancer-causing asbestos from schools and workplaces would be hastened and made mandatory under terms of a bill introduced in the House yesterday. Rep. James Florio (D-N.J.), the bill's author, said the current federal program, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, isn't tough enough or moving fast enough. And, he said, sloppy removal techniques allowed by the EPA may have increased the chances of exposure for some children. "It doesn't even say they have to remedy the problem," Florio said. Under current law, school officials are required only to make inspections and, if asbestos is found, to inform parents and school employees, according to Rick Hind, an environmental lobbyist with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. EPA gives grants and loans to school districts and advises school officials on removal techniques. The new bill -- the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 - will force the EPA to devise regulations, within one year, governing how asbestos should be removed from schools and other buildings. Florio said that at least 15 million children and 1.4 million workers spend part of their day in the estimated 30,000 buildings contaminated by asbestos. All of those buildings would have to be inspected under the new guidelines. The bill's proposed regulations would include detailed standards governing how buildings should be inspected, including what special training inspectors and removal workers must undergo. The standards would also spell out special procedures needed for removing damaged insulation already leaking asbestos fibers. School districts would have up to three years to come up with plans for removing asbestos from all school buildings. "We tell the EPA, 'Do these things, and you fail to do them, we will tell you what to do by statute.' That's the hammer," said Florio. Under his bill, if the EPA failed to come up with regulations, Congress would -- and those rules would probably be much stronger than the EPA's, Florio said, thus encouraging businessmen and school officials to put pressure on President Ronald Reagan to force the EPA to promulgate less restrictive guidelines. "We're opposed to it. It would slow the momentum of EPA's existing program and result in substantial unnecessary costs for federal, state and local governments," said EPA spokesman Dave Ryan. And the director of the EPA's asbestos abatement program denied that her office was ineffective. "We have what we consider to be a really good program," said Susan Vogt, the program's director. "Our goals are the same as those of the people on the Hill, to reduce exposure," she said. But criticism of the EPA program on Capitol Hill has been bipartisan. "All too often, untrained workers have, in the course of removing asbestos, created a greater asbestos problem and health hazard," said Rep. Norman Lent (R-East Rockaway), a co-sponsor of the Florio bill. And Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Stafford (R-Vt.) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Florio said said he expects both bills to be passed this summer. Florio said the EPA under Reagan has repeatedly resisted writing any new regulations or enforcing those written in prior administrations. "They literally are trying to self-destruct before your very eyes." Copyright (c) 1986 Newsday, Inc.