Attorney Generals in 14 states, plus the District of Colombia, have petitioned the EPA to enhance asbestos reporting rules. This would “address deficiencies” observed in the current chemical data reporting (CDR) asbestos rule. The petition asserts that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a mandate to perform asbestos risk evaluations and create regulations that deal with all unreasonable human or environmental risks.
Specific ways for the EPA to enhance asbestos reporting rules
• Close exemptions that exist in the CDR for naturally occurring substances and impurities.
• Extend the reporting requirements to processors of asbestos.
• Require notification of the substance’s use in articles.
Basically, this petition and an earlier one presented to the EPA in September of 2018, request all importers of asbestos and asbestos-containing products to inform the EPA of how and where they will be used. A current example of the need for these rules is a loophole that allowed Occidental Chemical Corporation–the largest asbestos importer– to import asbestos into the United States without notifying the EPA.
Supporters of the 2018 petition included the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the American Public Health Association (APHA), Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Environmental Working Group (EWG), Environmental Health Strategies Center (EHSC), and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF). This petition was denied.
The dangers of asbestos
While asbestos is naturally occurring, that does not mean it is not a danger. It is a known carcinogen. Researchers believe approximately 40,000 Americans die annually from asbestos-related diseases. Diseases range from asbestosis, to lung cancer, and most deadly – mesothelioma. While many countries have banned its use, the US has not, though there are limitations.
2016 changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act
Loopholes were a concern when the EPA made changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act at the beginning of the Trump administration. In general, instead of all new uses coming before the EPA to assess risk, only 15 specific uses would bring about a federal assessment. These 15 uses are relatively common, so new uses could slip in without review.
Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts asserted, “In recent years, tens of thousands have died from mesothelioma and other diseases caused by exposure to asbestos and other dangerous chemicals. If the Trump administration’s erosion of federal chemical safety rules continues, it will endanger our communities and the health of all Americans.”
The EPA’s response, led by EPA’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said their plan would make it more difficult to use asbestos in products. The agency asserted that it “is aware of all ongoing uses of asbestos and already has the information that EPA would receive if EPA were to amend the CDR requirements.” Because the risk evaluations under the reformed TSCA must be completed by December, there was not time to change the rule and assemble the information in time – although there is a possible six-month extension.
Attorney generals’ response
The attorneys assert that the public has a right to know of dangers to their health and how to avoid and eliminate exposures. “Neither of these goals can be accomplished,” the attorneys said,” if EPA does not possess the necessary comprehensive data with respect to the manufacture (including import) and use of asbestos in the US on which to act – data that currently EPA is not collecting under the CDR, as EPA concedes” in its response and denial to the previous petitioners.
The ADAO President and CEO, Linda Reinstein, expressed the thoughts of many when she said, “We are grateful and pleased that the states are showing leadership in holding the Trump EPA accountable for its reckless disregard of public health. When they denied ADAO’s petition, EPA irresponsibly refused to collect information that its own scientists need to do their jobs properly and that workers and the public need so they know whether they are being exposed to asbestos and can protect themselves from harm.”
The EPA response to this latest petition, filed on January 31, is required within 90 days.