Legislation & Litigation

States File Lawsuit Against EPA Over Asbestos Regulation

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Written By: Tim Povtak, Last modified: October 16, 2020
EPA building

A coalition of attorneys general from 10 states and the District of Columbia has filed a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency seeking increased scrutiny on asbestos products.

The lawsuit is challenging the EPA’s reluctance to initiate tighter controls or an outright ban of asbestos within the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was revised in 2016.

At issue is the EPA’s denial of a petition filed by 15 attorneys general in January that would have required more data collection and tracking of chemicals, including asbestos, coming into the U.S.

The lawsuit says the data collection is necessary to provide the information needed to more closely regulate asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The EPA dismissed the concern, announcing its own tighter regulations the same month.

Federal law still allows very limited uses of asbestos. The EPA’s latest regulation already gave it more power to review all asbestos products no longer on the market before they could be sold again in the U.S.

An estimated 10,000 people within the U.S. die each year from asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

A spokesman for the EPA said the agency does not discuss pending litigation and declined to comment on the latest development.

The attorneys general, though, wanted their thoughts to be known.

“While it’s troubling that we must once again take the EPA to court to force the agency to do its job, we won’t pull any punches,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a prepared statement. “There’s too much at stake to let the EPA ignore the danger that deadly asbestos poses to our communities.”

Lawsuit Filed in California

The lawsuit was filed in Oakland in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland and Minnesota are the other states involved, along with Washington, D.C.

The EPA has not ruled out the possibility of completely banning asbestos, but the agency is awaiting its final asbestos-risk assessment review, which is scheduled for completion in December.

It has said repeatedly that if unreasonable risk to human health or environment is determined, new regulations will be proposed.

“If there is any unreasonable risk, the EPA will regulate, and our regulation could take the form of a ban,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in April.

Push for Legislative Action to Ban Asbestos

Already working its way through Congress this summer is legislation calling for a complete ban of asbestos.

The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 would prohibit the manufacture, processing and distribution of asbestos in all forms.

Previous legislative efforts to ban asbestos have failed.

In 2018, the U.S. imported 750 tons of raw asbestos, all of which was used by the chlor-alkali industry to manufacture diaphragms to produce chlorine.

Small amounts of processed asbestos were imported in a variety of products, including automobile clutches and brakes, roofing materials and oilfield brake blocks.

The most serious threat of asbestos to the public today is legacy asbestos, which was used decades ago but remains in older structures, including homes, office buildings, schools and churches.

“We have waited years for the EPA to take responsible and effective action to protect the public from this deadly carcinogen,” said Linda Reinstein, president and CEO of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “We are still waiting. I am grateful to the 10 states and District of Columbia that are fighting to hold the EPA accountable.”

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