A court ruling in the final days of 2020 for asbestos reporting under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) may finally steer the EPA’s review of asbestos back in the right direction.
How the incoming Biden Administration responds to these developments will impact whether asbestos is finally labeled a toxin under TSCA and the extent of new asbestos reporting requirements for continued industry use of asbestos.
A 2016 bipartisan amendment to TSCA created an agency review standard that seemed likely to result in asbestos finally being identified by the EPA as a toxin. However, the EPA under the Trump Administration created a very narrow analysis based on too little information. Legal challenges to that approach, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, slowed the final scope and status of the EPA’s asbestos risk analysis. Though the EPA released the first part of its risk evaluation on December 30, 2020, a federal district court decision handed down on December 22, 2020 could force the EPA to drastically change its assessment.
Court ruling involving asbestos reporting
The federal district court ruling involved two cases – one brought by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) and a second filed by several states attorney generals. Judge Edward Chen, in his 36-page ruling, found that the asbestos-containing products identified by the agency during the rule making process “appear to be only the tip of the iceberg.” Chen also held that gaps in the agency’s information create risk evaluation models which don’t have the ability to “make accurate assessments that capture all ‘reasonably available’ data.”
The Court ordered the EPA to make significant changes to its TSCA Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) Rule to close several loopholes. These include considering more in-depth information about potential uses of asbestos for its risk evaluation. Judge Chen’s order also addressed closing two additional loopholes: ending the reporting exemption for products with “impurities” (like asbestos contaminated talc products) and requiring current processors of asbestos products to report those uses.
What happens next?
Assuming the Biden Administration chooses not to appeal Judge Chen’s order, the district court’s opinion will require EPA to amend its TSCA Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) Rule to require additional asbestos reporting from companies using asbestos and raw material that may be contaminated with asbestos – such as talc-based cosmetics. The data gathered through additional reporting may require the EPA to revise its conclusions or conduct yet another evaluation.
This will impact not only the EPA’s Part 1 – risk evaluation of current asbestos uses, but Part 2 as well – risk evaluation for legacy uses of asbestos. Safer consumer products and cosmetics could also be the upshot of more stringent asbestos reporting requirements.