About 1,400 federal employes were given Monday and yesterday off with pay while work crews completed removal of potentially hazardous asbestos from the boiler room of a leased 10-story office building in Hyattsville.

Dale Bruce, a spokesman for the General Services Administration, said the material was discovered in October during a survey of all government-owned or leased buildings for asbestos, whose particles can cause cancer when breathed. He said GSA had leased the Center 2 building at 3700 East-West Highway since 1968.

The most recent government tenants are a section of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with about 400 employes there, and the Treasury Department's financial management service, which moved in earlier this year with about 1,000 employes, according to spokeswoman Paula Clegett.

"This was not in the urgent category, the asbestos was not crumbling," Bruce said. "There was no immediate hazard to employes. We decided to remove the asbestos as a precautionary measure."

To minimize the disruption, he said, the agency delayed removing the material until after the winter heating season. Work began over the weekend, he said. GSA procedures require a 12-hour period after inspectors certify the work has been done before employes may return.

Bruce said if the testing continued as planned into last night, he expected the government workers to return to work today.

"The employes are out of the building not because of the asbestos problem but because we elected not to run the air conditioners and fans," which could send airborne asbestos fibers from the basement to other floors.

Traces of asbestos have caused concern in other government buildings, including the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Southwest Washington, where 400 employes were sent home early one day last summer after safety inspectors discovered some asbestos.