More than two-thirds of the District's 121 private schools and all of its more than 200 licensed private day-care centers have failed to inspect their facilities for cancer-causing asbestos as required under a year-old rule of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, city officials said.

The regulation required the institutions to complete inspections by last May and to notify parents and employes if asbestos were found.

The 1982 regulation also has prompted a national union representing custodians, the Service Employees International Union, to call for reinspection of District public schools, which were checked for asbestos in 1976 before the tougher new standards were issued.

Public schools safety manager Dominic G. Angino, coordinator of the District's state asbestos plan for the U.S. Department of Education, said fewer than 20 schools were represented at a workshop held for them last fall on asbestos detection. He said only 41 schools--40 of them Catholic archdiocese schools--submitted copies of required EPA forms to his office.

Angino said he did not notify the private day-care centers and schools whose students are 6 or younger of the requirement. About 5,000 children are enrolled in licensed day-care centers in the city, and more than 21,000 attend private schools.

The city government does not routinely inspect private schools and day-care centers for asbestos or require them to inspect their own facilities, according to officials of several agencies.

If a complaint or request is made, Dr. Herbert Wood, former chief of institutional hygiene for the city and now an adviser to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), said he inspects and recommends action.

The private schools "seem to be passing through the cracks," said Rohulamin Quander, chairman of the Educational Institution Licensing Commission. "There is a problem of who is responsible for what, in terms of monitoring what's going on in the schools. Nobody's doing it."

Monroe Stewart, chief of building inspections for DCRA, said "none of my people inspect for asbestos per se." He said inspections required before granting a certificate of occupancy to a school are "more or less cosmetic, obvious things." And even if an inspector noticed asbestos, he said, he would not be able to cite a code violation because the D.C. code makes no mention of asbestos.

Thomas F. Wilds, director of St. John's Child Development Center, a private special education school at 5005 MacArthur Blvd. NW, said he was unaware of the regulation. "You're not supposed to have it, or treat it, or cover it up or something? I can't picture where it would be," Wilds said.

"It hasn't been inspected," said Louise Whitney, director of the Louise Whitney School, 1501 Gallatin St. NW. "The material they sent was very nebulous as to what you're supposed to do. I just thought, someday I'll do something about that."

Asbestos is the name for a group of fibrous minerals that were used for fireproofing, insulation, noise control and decoration in many buildings constructed between 1900 and 1975, the year use of the materials in buildings was banned. As asbestos crumbles from age, physical disturbance or water damage, tiny, almost indestructible fibers enter the air.

Asbestos is an undisputed carcinogen that causes a variety of cancers, including mesothelioma, a lung cancer for which asbestos is the only cause. Inhaling asbestos fibers also can lead to asbestosis, a condition that severely reduces lung capacity.

Children are thought to be especially vulnerable to asbestos danger, as are school custodians and engineers who often must disturb asbestos-laden material to clean or make repairs, experts say.

Officials of several private schools said they were unaware of the new rule, but were certain they had no asbestos problem.

"I'm sure we don't have it," said Cathya Stevenson of the Washington International School. "We're in an old mansion and we completely renovated this summer."

Alan Korz, director of the Episcopal Center for Children, 5901 Utah Ave. NW, said the school has "neglected the paperwork, but we've done the inspection."

At eight public schools that were found or suspected to have asbestos ceilings in 1976, the city chose to encapsulate the asbestos by spraying the ceilings with a plastic sealant to reduce the expense and difficulty of removing it.

"I think we've done a fantastic job," safety manager Angino said of the project, which cost more than $600,000.

"We don't think the evaluation was done properly," said Ray Abernathy, whose public relations firm conducted a state-by-state survey on school asbestos inspections for the custodians' union. "We think they all ought to be reinspected."

"I think they just covered the problem up, they didn't resolve it," said William Brown, president of the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers.

Angino estimated the sealed ceilings may last until 1987 if they are not disturbed.

Georgetown Visitation, a Roman Catholic girls high school near Reservoir Road NW, spent $70,000 this summer to replace ceilings in eight classrooms and other parts of the school.

George Dillon, who supervised the job for Asbes-Tech, a Staunton, Va., contractor, said, "These buildings built in the '60s and '70s, roofs beginning to take a little water--the asbestos starts falling like plaster."