The Environmental Protection Agency's regional director in Denver and about a dozen employes have been moved from their offices because of "a constant rain" of asbestos.
The EPA is one of the main federal agencies charged with protecting the public from asbestos, and officials recently launched a public-awareness campaign to increase pressure on school districts for action against the potentially harmful substance.
Thus the agency apparently decided it should make sure its own house was in order.
During an inspection of the Denver offices last month -- part of a nationwide check of all EPA buildings -- asbestos was found in a material sprayed on girders that support the ceilings. Renovations had knocked some material loose, causing it "to filter down through the holes in the ceiling tiles and into the workplace," said Jack O. Hoffbuhr, acting assistant regional administrator.
One woman working in the office "showed us several teaspoons of asbestos that had fallen from the ceiling while she was out to lunch," said Wes Wilson, president of American Federation of Government Employes Local 3607. "There's been a constant rain of this stuff in some areas."
Regional Director John Welles and the dozen workers given new offices were those exposed to the highest levels of the material, said Bill Geise, chief of the toxic substances branch.
Asbestos, once widely used for insulating and fireproofing, was banned in 1978 as a spray-on construction material because it can cause respiratory disease and lung cancer if inhaled.
EPA officials in Denver said they knew about asbestos in the offices more than six years ago but did nothing because they believed it was below the danger level.
Property manager Lorraine Chase said daily air samples are "way below" the federal limits for construction workers. There are no standards for office workers.