A congressional subcommittee yesterday accused the Environmental Protection Agency of abandoning federal programs established to identify and remove asbestos from schools and other public places.
Asbestos is one of the most regulated substances in America, and, in fact, was the first substance for which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued work-place standards. Last spring, industry asked the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief to relax some of those regulations.
Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.), chairman of the House energy and commerce subcommitee that oversees the agency, said EPA seems to be doing just that. Among the actions--or inaction--cited yesterday:
* A final rule establishing a mandatory school inspection program is a year overdue.
* Regulations for an Education Department program to help schools pay for asbestos removal were never written by EPA and the loan and grant program never put in place.
* A Carter administration idea to require commercial buildings to be inspected for asbestos has been dropped.
* The development of restrictions for the commercial and industrial use of asbestos is five months behind schedule.
* An information-gathering system for asbestos use and substitutes is also five months overdue.
* A program to alert mechanics exposed to asbestos fibers when servicing brakes on vehicles is in limbo.
* A joint program with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to alert homeowners to the dangers of asbestos has been dropped by EPA, according to an agency memo. Officials said yesterday, however, that the program is proceeding according to schedule.
In addition, subcommittee members noted that the administration wants to cut funds to administer the Toxic Substances Control Act, under which many of the asbestos programs are run, by 42 percent from fiscal 1981 to fiscal 1983.
Dr. John A. Todhunter, assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances, said, "Our budget people found that our office always asked for more money" than it spent.
Todhunter added that the asbestos program schedules agreed to by the Carter EPA were "unrealistic."
Subcommittee members noted that there were many substitutes for asbestos that EPA could force industry to use. Todhunter replied, "In many cases there are substitutes. In many cases there are not. And the cost of substitution must be considered." He added that large segments of the asbestos industry are already regulated and "it's not clear that the remaining cases demand further regulation."
EPA first proposed a mandatory school inspection program in 1979; at the same time, it began a voluntary inspection program in which school officials were taught how to inspect their schools. According to EPA's schedule, the final rule for the inspection program was due in February, 1981. Todhunter said the final proposal was sent to the Office of Management and Budget roughly a week ago for its review.
Todhunter said the voluntary inspection program had been only partially successful, noting that about 30 to 40 percent of the schools remain uninspected. Subcommittee members argued that the number of uninspected schools is higher.