The Council on Environmental Quality, the White House agency that looks for cancer-causing substances throughout the nation, has found some in its own building.
Asbestos - the target of a massive detection campaign by the federal government - is dripping from stairwell ceiling in the New Executive Office Building, which houses CEO and other Presidential departments that are charged with monitoring the environment.
An analysis of a fibrous material that was sprayed on the ceilings for fire protection when the big. red-brick building at 722 Jackson Pl. NW was built in 1965 revealed that it contained 30 times the amount of asbestos now regarded as safe. The material was applied before the dangers of asbestos were so widely recognized and subject to federal safety regulations.
Poole, like Karch, jogged up the steps until he became suspicious of the material, some of which had been knocked from the ceiling. apparently by mops and brooms of cleaning workers. Poole gathered up a sample of the material and gabe it to Dr. Joseph Breen of EPA's office to toxic substances, who sent it to a private laboratory in Chicago for analysis.
Robert Costanzo, White House buildings manager for the General Services Administration, said GSA safety inspectors will survey the building next week "just to be safe."
Nathan J. Karch, acting senior staff director for toxic substances at CEQ has circulated a memo to his coworkers warning that the gray material hanging loosely in the stairways constitutes "a potentially serious health hazard."
Karch, who used to run up fire flights of stairs to his office for exercise, now takes the elecator and told his collegues. "I recommend you do the same."
The first person to be alarmed about the material was Charles Poole, a former CEQ employe who now is a public health specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The sample proved to be 30 percent chrysotile (while) asbestos. Federal standards adopted in 1973 limit the asbestos content in new building material to one percent.
According to a report of the U. S. Surgeon General exposure to asbestos, a group of fibrous minerals that do not burn and are excellent insulators, significantly increases the risk of four serious diseases, including two kinds of cancer in which it appears to be the only cause.
HEW Secretary Joseph P. Califano Jr. said last year that " Public Health Service had advised me . . . that andy exposure (to asbestos) probably carries some risk of desease." Califano said "asbestos is one of the most dangerous and insidious substances in the workplace" because many individuals effected are unaware of their exposure. Diseases resulting from asbestos are not likely to appear for 15 to 35 years or more, Califano said.
Califano's report last August warned that asbestos that has been sprayed on walls ceiling and pipes can pose a health threat when it flakes from deterioration or damage.
Asbestos breaks up easily and becomes so fine that it cannot be seen, but it can be inhaled and swallowed, and is so durable it can remain in the body for many years, he said.
Karch said he is worried that just avoiding the stairs in his building may not be enough. He said he fears that the dissolved asbestos will filter through the building's ventilation system Yesterday, he found some chunks of asbestos on the floor of the stairs, and pointed to other sports where it was missing from the ceiling.
Dr. David P. Rall, director of the National Institute of Environmental Sciences in Durham, N. C. recalled seeing the asbestos in the stairwell on a visit to the building.
Rall, who is co-chairman of the HEW public information campaign about the dangers of asbestos, said "I looked at it and thought it was in pretty good shape. But if it is flaking, they should get on it."
Steven D. Jellinek, assistant EPA administrator, used to work in the NEOB and recalled "seeing the stuff hanging there. If it's crumbling or coming off, it's a problem and the people who are in charge of the building should go through the steps we recommend."
Jellined said EPA recently published a manual that explains in non-technical terms how to deal with asbestos. The program is aimed mainly at schools, because surveys have indicated that 10,000 of the nation's 60,000 schools contain asbestos.
The Prince George's Country Board of Education is spending $56,000 to protect 16 schools sprayed with asbestos, and D. C. Mayor Marion Barry last month named a task force to find and protect buildings and schools that are coated with asbestos.
The solutions recommended by EPA are to remove the material, which is expensive and must be done carefully to avoid fumes, or coat it with a sealant, or cover it with a berrier such as a suspended ceiling.
Jellinek said the EPA "isn't ignoring" office buildins, but "the schools were our first target." CAPTION: Picture, Nathan J. Karch Points to asbestos fibers in Executive Building stairwell. By Ken Feil - The Washington Post