The Washington Post incorrectly quoted James G. Topper, general manager of the Rockville Crushed Stone Co. in a story in yesterday's paper. Topper actually said, "The levels of asbestos fibers in the air are at or below those background levels found anywhere in the United States."
A year-old, $1.8 million program designed to reduce the amount of asbestos fibers found in air samples taken in Montgomery County has had no effect, according to an independent analysis of the county's own test figures.
The program was instituted after the county learned that gravel containing the cancer-causing fibers had been used to cover county roads and playgrounds. The program involved the removal of the gravel or - where that was not feasible - the paving over of areas where the crushed stone had been used.
The gravel which releases asbestos fibers into the air when disturbed, is still considered a possible health hazard by the county's director of environmental protection, however. Accordingly, she urged in a memo that the county continue to avoid using the locally quarried stone, called serpentinite, in loose form on heavily traveled county roads.
The memo, written by DEP director Frances L. Abrams to Montgomery County Executive James. P. Gleason, also said that the use of the gravel in unbound form on the county's lightly traveled roadways does not contribute to the levels of microscopic asbestos particles in the air, and therefore its use should not be discontinued.
The memo said that there was also no reason to discontinue the use of the stone in the county's road-pavins program in which it is covered with a binding substance, such as macadam.
"The analysis validates what we've been saying all along," claimed James G. Topper. general manager of the Rockville Crushed Stone Co., which quarries serpentinite and is one of the inexpensive rock for roadway and construction work.
"We've been saying since this thing started that our gravel was not the cause of the asbestos in the air," Topper said.
However, Leslie Dach, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit public interest health group, said the findings "did not contradict" federal studies that showed the level of asbestos fibers in the county's air was 1,500 times greater than in air samples of other major netropolitan areas.