An emergency task force set up to monitor asbestos removal from buildings owned by the District of Columbia complained yesterday that the city has taken no action in the last year to get rid of the cancer-causing substance because of inattention by the mayor and City Council.
In a related development, Council Chairman David A. Clarke charged that bureaucratic delays in awarding a contract will cause the District to pay twice as much as it should for preliminary testing to determine the extent of the asbestos problem.
More delays in this testing appear imminent because the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development has rejected the only bidder for its contract to test 1,200 units of public housing and the bidder has taken the issue to court.
According to public works official Harold T. Henson, the D.C. Department of Public Works today also may reject the company, the lowest of three bidders, for similar testing of 881 District-owned or -leased government buildings. Henson, head of the facility operations administration, said the firm may be rejected as being inexperienced.
The Public Works Department has estimated the cost of inspecting and testing samples from the government buildings at $3.4 million. Clarke said this equals 24 cents per square foot compared with 10 cents a square foot for similar work done in Maryland.
The District's work will cost more, Henson said, because testing employes must rush to finish the work by a court-ordered deadline.
As part of the District's $400 million lawsuit against asbestos manufacturers and distributors, a D.C. Superior Court judge has ordered the city to inspect and sample asbestos in city-owned buildings by April 1.
Clarke complained that the city has known of the deadlines involved in the suit since last July, but still has not awarded the contract for testing.
"This is just the general tendency toward dillydallying," said Clarke. "We've grown accustomed to the wait and hurry-up dynamic."
To meet the court deadline, Mayor Marion Barry last month asked for $6.2 million to be reprogrammed for the testing.
The mayor did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
Asbestos Abatement Services Inc. was the low bidder at $1.2 million, less than half the $2.6 million sought by the next lowest bidder, Dewberry & Davis, according to Henson. A third bidder, Tracor Jitco, came in at $3.6 million.
Brent Kynoch, president of Asbestos Abatement, declined to comment because of his firm's lawsuit against the housing department and the pending Public Works Department decision. He said the company was incorporated a little more than a year ago, operating out of offices on Massachusetts Avenue NW, with asbestos abatement as its only business.
Henson also revealed that his department had awarded a six-month $140,000 contract to Coopers & Lybrand, an accounting firm, to coordinate an asbestos abatement plan.
The asbestos task force's chairwoman charged that the group could not do its work because of lack of support.
Under an emergency bill passed by the council and approved by Congress on Jan. 23 last year, a task force on asbestos abatement was to be appointed in 15 days. A report to the council on asbestos in public buildings was due in four months.
The council and Board of Education did not appoint its members until summer, several months after the group's report was due.
"But after one full year, we've had no support from the mayor or City Council," said Barbara Berney, the task force chairwoman. "The mayor has yet to appoint his two members."
Later yesterday, however, a Barry administration official said the mayor has chosen his two members and would be sending their names to the City Council shortly.