Newsday (Melville, N.Y.) (pg. 15)  [Printer-friendly version]
June 25, 1986


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

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.