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EPA finds widespread asbestos hazard.

EPA finds widespread asbestos hazard

An estimated one in five commercial buildings in the United States contains friable (easily broken) asbestos fibers -- the type that poses the greates human health hazard. These data, contained in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study released this week, also show that of the estimated 733,000 buildings affected, 43 percent may have asbestos that is "significantly damaged" and therefore quite likely to become airborne.

The study, which surveyed a statistically representative sampling of 231 buildings nationally, found asbestos most common in large, residential apartment buildings: Almost 60 percent of those surveyed contained the carcinogen.

Despite these findings, EPA plans no new regulations for dealing with the problem within the next three years. The reason, explains EPA Assistant Administrator John A. Moore, is that there are barely sufficient resources now -- in terms of money and trained professionals -- for dealing with asbestos in schools. And according to EPA, completing the national asbestos-control program for schools deserves priority attention, both because of the mineral's greater prevalence in schools and because asbestos exposure poses a greater cancer risk to children than to adults.

For now, EPa administrator Lee M. Thomas is recommending to Congress that the agency be allowed to spend $6.6 million more annually to increase the supply of asbestos-control professionals, to develop safe methods of repairing, encapsulating and removing asbestos insulation from heating pipes and boilers (the main source of asbestos in commercial buildings), and to beef up EPA's technical assistance and enforcement programs.

The Washington, D.C.-based Service Employees International Union, which calls this response "unacceptable," is pushing ahead on a lawsuit to make EPA require immediate asbestos surveys for all commercial buildings. Its goal is to help maintenance workers identify potentially hazardous work sites.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Protection Agency
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 5, 1988
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