EPA Settlement With States Closes Loopholes That Allowed Companies to Avoid Asbestos Reporting Requirements
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a settlement with several states, agreeing to close loopholes which previously allowed companies to avoid reporting the use of toxic asbestos substances.
The settlement agreement (PDF) was announced earlier this month between the EPA, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and D.C., as well as with several organizations and non-profits, including the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the American Public Health Association, the Center for Environmental Health, the Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Safer Chemicals Health Families. It is a result of a lawsuit brought by the states and organizations in June 2019.
In the settlement, the EPA agreed to propose a new rule to collect data on exemptions for the use of asbestos and then eliminate those exemptions. The EPA has agreed to meet specific deadlines that require it to propose the new rule no later than nine months after the settlement is approved, and a final rule no later than 18 months after approval.
The accord comes in the wake of a December 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California, which ordered the EPA to collect better data on the use, manufacture and import of asbestos into the United States.
The risks of asbestos exposure, which can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and other serious health injuries, have been known for about a century, although they did not get widely publicized until 1964. Most modern, first-world countries banned asbestos use in its entirety decades ago. But not the United States.
Despite the ban on most applications, about 750 metric tons of asbestos are used in the United States every year. The EPA was given a chance to ban asbestos again in 2016, as part of a new chemical safety law meant to require safety reviews of key chemicals, but refused.
The EPA again refused to put an outright ban on asbestos in place in April 2019, as part of a significant new use rule. That decision came amid public comments by doctors, health experts and consumers who supported a ban.
In May 2019, The New York Times published internal memos showing even the EPA’s own experts were against the decision and thought remaining asbestos uses should be banned. At the time, EPA personnel objected to claims that “new uses” of asbestos could be safer, of narrow definitions of what asbestos is, and also complained that the EPA was only considering lung cancer and mesothelioma as potential asbestos harms.
“The long-time failure of the EPA to regulate asbestos is an environmental injustice and public health tragedy,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a press release. “As with so many environmental toxins, it is our low-income communities, communities of color, and young children who are disproportionately exposed to this deadly carcinogen and who suffer the resulting health consequences. Today’s commitment by the Biden Administration’s EPA to collect missing information about the import and use of asbestos is an important step toward ensuring all Americans live in a community that is healthy and safe.”
The press release indicates asbestos-related illnesses cause 15,000 deaths per year in the U.S. Those illnesses can include mesothelioma, fibrosis, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, asbestosis and other diseases.
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