A new federal study claims, for the first time, that inhaling only a single high dose of a known carcinogen caused cancer in animals, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported yesterday.

The $700,000 study, four years in the making, centered on vinyl chloride, a proven carcinogen once widely used in a variety of products from aerosal spray paints to pesticides. It found that tumors were common in mice which had been subjected to single high level doses of a vinyl chloride gas.

A CPSC spokesman said yesterday that the findings of the study suggest that similar studies should be done for other known carcinogens.

"Previous cancer research," the CPSC found, "had focused almost exclusively on the effects of repeated low-level and high-level exposures to carcinogens over lengthy time periods."

But the latest study, performed by Chemical Systems Laboratory (formerly the Edgewood Arsenal at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Mary-land) found that after only a one-hour exposure to high doses of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) gas, many laboratory mice were found to have tumors.

Vinyl chloride monomer has been banned by the CPSC as a propellant or an ingredient, by the Food & Drug Administration as an ingredient in hairsprays and cosmetics, and by the EPA from use in pesticides.

The new study suggests that a one-time exposure, resulting, for example, from an accidental spillage of VCM on the nation's highways, railways or waterways, could threaten workers at the spillage site, or perhaps even nearby residents.

The study will be reviewed by several government agencies and researchers to assess the impact of the findings, and is expected to stimulate further research in the area.