State and local officials yesterday asked Congress for help in meeting the cost of removing asbestos from more than 1,000 schools constructed with the cancer-causing material between 1945 and 1973.
At a House subcommittee hearing on the asbestos problem, school officials testified that the cost of removing or sealing up asbestos in the walls and ceilings of school buildings could range from nearly $50 million in New York City to about $4 million in the little New Jersey community of Cinnaminson.
At the same time, the acting chairman at the hearing conducted by the House subcommittee on elementary, secondary and vocational education sharply disagreed with officials of the Johns-Manville Corp., the nation's largest asbestos manufacturer, over the potential hazard from asbestos in school buildings.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said Johns-Manville officials "misrepresented the facts" in their claim to the committee that asbestos in schools poses no health problem.
Miller challenged a statement by Dr. Paul Kotin, Johns-Manville's senior vice president for health, safety and environment, that no evidence exists that asbestos in schools presents a health hazard and that asbestos is no more dangerous to children than adults.
Miller noted that a number of public and private health experts who appeared before the committee had warned that no safe level of asbestos exposure had been determined. He also said Kotin testified in 1977 before the Consumer Product Safety Commission that the effects of asbestos were different for adults and children.
"They fully misrepresent their knowledge of the information (about asbestos) available to them and when it was available," Miller said after the testimony by the Johns-Manville officials.
Dr. James P. Leineweber, technical director for science for Johns-Manville, told the subcommittee that a "no response level" to asbestos existed that was higher than asbestos levels found in the schools.
"I hope you're right," Miller replied. Later he said he favored swearing in the asbestos firm's officials as witnesses before the committee -- an unusual and unlikely procedure, he said -- to obtain undistorted information.
Earlier, Rep. Carl D. Perkins, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, indicated that some form of federal monetary relief will probably be sought by the committee for school districts with serious asbestos problems.