Alarmed that a new asbestos rule could lead to more uses of the extremely toxic substance in the U.S., the attorneys general from 11 states are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The complaint, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, challenges the EPA’s refusal to tighten asbestos regulations pursuant to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The coalition of attorneys general petitioned the EPA in January to create a new set of regulations within the TSCA’s Chemical Data Reporting rule with the aim of forcing the agency to collect data on the importation and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. The coalition argues that the EPA can’t fulfill its obligation to enforce the TSCA without the data it needs.
The attorneys general claim such a rule also would have helped ensure that the EPA’s regulation of asbestos is consistent with the best available science and that the data such regulations would yield would be a valuable source of information that is not currently collected.
The states claim that the EPA’s denial of their petition was “arbitrary and capricious and violates the agency’s obligations under TSCA,” according to Attorney General Becerra.
“It is widely acknowledged that asbestos is one of the most harmful and toxic chemicals known to humankind,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement about the lawsuit. “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. There’s too much at stake to let the EPA ignore the danger that deadly asbestos poses to our communities.”
While the EPA touts the measure as a way of preventing some asbestos products from returning to the marketplace by requiring them to undergo an EPA review, critics describe it as a half measure that could help companies reintroduce the use of the toxic substance in several applications where it hasn’t been used in decades because of the risks it poses to public health. They say the review process itself opens the door to 15 uses of the substance.
Exposure to the fibrous mineral causes serious health risks including the incurable lung disease asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or chest. There is no safe exposure limit.
According to The Hill, Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, acknowledged that the EPA’s new rule could conceivably make it more difficult for industry to resume some abandoned uses of the substance, but added that an outright ban “is the only way the public can trust industry will never again be able to use this dangerous material that has literally killed tens of thousands of Americans.”
Laura Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, expressed disapproval of the EPA’s action in an April 17 statement:
Asbestos is a known carcinogen that claims the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans every year. This toothless regulation requires companies to seek approval from EPA to resume manufacturing, importing, and processing of asbestos for 15 obsolete uses. It does not ban these uses, but leaves the door open to their return to the marketplace. To think that any company would willingly attempt to resurrect these 15 obsolete asbestos uses is ludicrous. That EPA would enable it is unconscionable.
Joining Attorneys General Becerra and Healey in the EPA lawsuit are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Beasley Allen lawyer Sharon Zinns leads the firm’s mesothelioma litigation team. She is investigating claims involving mesothelioma and lung cancer resulting from asbestos exposure.