San Francisco — Attorneys general of 10 states and the District of Columbia are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, over the agency’s refusal to issue a rule to further regulate asbestos – a known human carcinogen.
In a lawsuit filed June 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the plaintiffs contend that EPA’s April 30 denial of their Jan. 31 petition urging the agency to implement a reporting rule mandating data on asbestos use and importation is “arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance” with requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
The plaintiffs assert that data provided under possible additional regulation would allow EPA to better “assess the potential hazards and exposure pathways of asbestos” while using the “best available science” in its evaluations.
“Given EPA’s understanding of asbestos and reporting, EPA does not believe that the requested reporting requirements would collect the data the petitioners believe the agency lacks,” EPA states in its response to the petition.
“Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a July 1 press release, “yet the Trump administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks it poses for our residents. We urge the court to order EPA to issue this new rule to help protect workers, families and children from this toxic chemical.”
Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra are listed as lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They are joined by attorneys general from Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.
In April, EPA released a final “significant new use” rule the agency said is intended to keep manufacturers from reintroducing “discontinued uses” of asbestos. The rule, which went into effect June 24, established a review process requiring agency approval for entities seeking to start or resume uses that include – but aren’t limited to – adhesives, sealants, and roof and non-roof coatings; arc chutes; millboard; reinforced plastics; roofing felt; and vinyl-asbestos floor tile.
EPA states that the rule doesn’t impact the prohibited uses of asbestos covered in a 1989 partial ban.
In March, lawmakers reintroduced legislation in both the House and Senate renewing a call for a complete federal ban of asbestos, a long-standing effort of Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). The bill is named for the late Alan Reinstein, who died from mesothelioma in 2006 and whose wife, Linda, now heads the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
On July 12, the coalition of attorneys general who filed suit against EPA, along with colleagues from six other states, sent a letter to the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee calling for bicameral support of the legislation.
“The protections afforded by the Reinstein bill are necessary now because EPA clearly has demonstrated that it is unable and unwilling to use its authority under TSCA to address the unreasonable risks of injury to health and the environment posed by asbestos,” the letter states.
Linda Reinstein, in a July 15 press release, called the letter “a major step forward in our fight to ban asbestos.” In a July 1 release, she voiced her support of the lawsuit filed against EPA, expressing gratitude to the attorneys general for “fighting to hold EPA accountable for yet another of its many asbestos failures.”
Asbestos is among the first 10 chemicals undergoing evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amended TSCA.
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