Hundreds of parks, playgrounds and streets throughout the Washington area are apparently surfaced with rock containing cancer-causing asbestos fibers, local officials said yesterday.
Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia, at least 12 miles of bikepaths in the District and Northern Virginia, and two small portions of parks and three parking lots in Prince George's County were newly identified yesterday as places - in addition to widespread areas of Montgomery County - where quantities of the asbestos-bearing crushed stone has been used as a ground cover.
Officials of those jurisdictions and the National Park Service made plans yesterday to clean up the brittle rock mined in a Montgomery County quarry that release airborne asbestos fibers when disturbed.
At the same time, Maryland, state officials expressed concern that the health hazard caused by the asbestos fibers, which are dangerous when inhaled, may be statewide.
The state officials said that they are examining the possibility that at least two other quarries - both in the Baltimore area - may be mining asbestos-laden stone that is used extensively throughout the state.
In addition, state officials said they wre suspending the use of asbestos-contaminated rock in road projects and were considering invoking emergency state powers to regulate any further use of the stone.
"This may be a statewide problem," said Maryland air quality director George Ferrari, who spoke at the session sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Ferrari said that the state has asked two quarries in Baltimore County, the Delight Quarry and the Bluemont Quarry, to send him immediately samples of the rock they sell for use in roadwayus and schoolyard construction and a complete list of their customers in Maryland.
"We want to see what it is, who's using it, and how it's being used," Ferrari said. "Once we know these factors, we can consider drawing up regulations."
On Tuesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent warnings to both Montgomery County and the state of Maryland that stone from the Rockville Crushed Stone Quarry, used in Parks, roads, and play areas, represented a "potentially serious health problem."
EPA recommended immediate closure of the parks and playgrounds to protect against inhalation of the fibers.
Yesterday, 230 red and white signs went up at 100 Montgomery County playgrounds and 130 schools at a cost of $4 each, according to Stanton Ernst, county parks director.
The parks and planning office received about 70 calls yesterday from school officials and irate parents who were concerned over end-of-school picnics planned in recreation areas. Ernst advised them that, though the areas were not closed, they were to be used at their own risk. Hazardous areas with be closed off, he said.
He estimated that treating asbestos in the 200 parks would take up to six months.
Montgomery County school officials have not decided what they will do about the rock in the elementary school playgrounds but principals yesterday kept children out of these areas.
Montgomery County will spend $500,000 immediately and another $2 million over the next two years to eliminate the loose asbestos-containing gravel on unpaved roads, according to William Hussman, chief administrative officer.
In Prince George's County, less than two miles of park roads are contaminated with the crushed stone, highway officials said yesterday. The stone lies primarily along the road shoulders, they said, and will be sealed with asphalt.
Three Prince George's County parking lots maintained by the county transportation department also have been identified as containing Rockville quarry stone. All three - in Hyattsville, Upper Marlboro, and Greenbelt - will be covered, Fred Wootten, county air pollution official, said yesterday.
Park Service officals said yesterday they were immediately covering a five-mile stretch of bike trails between Alexandria and Mount Vernon with a liquid asphalt treatment. Similar treatments will be given to five miles of trails between Good and Hope Road and Ft. Dupont Park in Southeast Washington and two miles of scattered trails in Rock Creek Park in the District.
"We suspect there are other sites, including access roads to the C & O Canal," said Park Service spokesman George Berklacy. He said the bike paths will not be closed and there are no plans to put up warning signs for the thousands of usere each week.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission began covering or sealing the crushed stone in play areas at four regional parks: Cabin John, Wheaton, Rock Creek, and Olney Manor. The parks were ordered closed until the sealing is completed, officials said.
County Executive James P. Gleason, who asked for the extraordinary conference yesterday, complained bitterly that the EPA recommendations were forceing him to take action that the county had no power or financial resources to take.