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State to Begin Delayed Study of Health Peril From Asbestos

January 07, 1988|HENRY WEINSTEIN | Times Labor Writer

California will begin surveying hundreds of public buildings in California this month to determine the extent of asbestos contamination, State Health Director Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer announced Wednesday.

The announcement came one week after the survey was supposed to have been completed under emergency legislation enacted in May, 1986. That legislation, authored by Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), said the study needed to begin immediately "to safeguard the public health from the hazards of asbestos."

The Health Department now plans to present its findings to the Legislature in December, Kizer said.

Some Work Delayed

Kizer's action came less than a month after it was disclosed that the Deukmejian Administration had failed to enforce safety provisions on asbestos removal firms. That disclosure resulted in the suspension of asbestos removal work at some state buildings, including the Capitol.

Health Department officials said there was no connection between the December revelations and Wednesday's announcement.

Asbestos was used widely as fire retardant in earlier decades, but is now known to cause lung cancers. The danger comes when asbestos fibers, which are too small to be seen by the naked eye, break loose and are breathed and become lodged in the lungs.

Dr. Steven Hayward, manager of the department's indoor air quality program, blamed the delay in implementing the inspection program on several problems. He said the state did not want to hire permanent employees to do a one-year job and ran into "a lot of hang-ups" in seeking an outside contractor to complete the assessment.

Administration Attacked

Margolin was not available for comment Wednesday. But Assemblyman Richard Floyd (D-Hawthorne), who frequently has criticized the Deukmejian Administration for not responding swiftly to the state's asbestos problem, said "it's amazing that they don't do anything in a timely fashion as they're charged with by law. It's just outrageous."

Hayward said the survey would begin in the next two weeks. He said the state has hired Diagnostic Engineering Inc. of Sierra Madre to assist in the job.

He said 240 of the 40,000 public buildings in the state would be examined, the most that can be scrutinized under the $800,000 budgeted for the inspections.

Hayward said buildings to be surveyed include hospitals, jails, prisons, office buildings, fire stations and recreational facilities. He said most of the buildings are owned or leased by cities and counties because local governments have little money to do this kind of work and asbestos problems in their buildings have been the "most neglected."

Earlier Data Cited

Previously, the State Architect's Office has gathered information on asbestos problems in about 2,000 state buildings, Hayward said. He said data compiled in those surveys will be included in the report the Health Department will make to the Legislature.

The report is supposed to include an assessment of the extent of the problem, recommendations for its correction, a system to inform the public of the dangers of asbestos in public buildings and a plan for wider inspections in the future.

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