U.S. District Court Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer declined yesterday to force the Environmental Protection Agency to act against the inventories of a pesticide used against termites, but indicated he was inclined to do so.

Oberdorfer told lawyers for the National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides to submit a proposed order that would force the EPA to begin proceedings for an emergency ban on chlordane and a related chemical, heptachlor, and cancellation of the manufacturer's pesticide license.

The EPA and the manufacturer, Velsicol Corp., agreed Aug. 11 that the compounds could not be sold while Velsicol conducted new tests of exposure of homeowners.

About 30 million residences have been treated with chlordane, for many years the only effective chemical protection against termites. The EPA classifies the chemical as a probable carcinogen.

When the agreement was announced, the EPA estimated that enough chlordane existed in distribution channels for two months' worth of treatment, or about enough for 100,000 houses. Under an emergency ban, the agency would have to buy the inventory for about $53 million -- money it does not have. The agency says the prospective purchase played no role in its decision.

Oberdorfer asked Justice Department lawyer Steven Rogers, representing the EPA, "Isn't there a legitimate concern by these plaintiffs that somebody's got a mountain of {chlordane} somewhere that you don't know about?"

Rogers said there is no evidence of an unknown large supply.

Oberdorfer said he will hold another hearing five days after receiving a draft order.