EPA, states settle lawsuit over imported asbestos

4 minute read

A "Danger Asbestos" sign is seen as a demolition crew removes the remains of a demolished home, next to an occupied one, in a neighborhood filled with blight in Detroit, Michigan, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

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  • EPA to collect data on previously unreported asbestos in imports
  • Agency will issue final rule within 18 months

(Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday settled a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court by a dozen states and public health groups over asbestos oversight by agreeing to close "loopholes" that have allowed the substance to enter the country unrecorded as part of imported products.

Under the proposed settlement deal, which is subject to the court's approval, the EPA will issue within 18 months a rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that will require companies, for the first time, to tell the agency when they import certain articles that contain the toxic substance. The data will be used to assess the risks asbestos poses to public health.

"The long-time failure of the EPA to regulate asbestos is an environmental injustice and public health tragedy," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. California, with Massachussetts, co-leads the coalition of a dozen states who sued the EPA in 2019.

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EPA spokesperson Dominique Joseph did not immediately provide a comment.

The states, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and other groups sued President Donald Trump's EPA in 2019 after the agency denied their separate petitions urging it to adopt regulation to shed light on the quantity of asbestos imported as part of certain products.

Federal law allows limited uses of asbestos, a carcinogen once used widely in construction materials. Companies that import articles containing asbestos are not required to disclose to the EPA that they have imported the toxic substance.

Congress in 2016 amended the TSCA to create a process for further regulating the substance, including by giving the EPA hard deadlines to evaluate and mitigate the safety risks of asbestos and other chemicals.

In their complaints, the states and the public health groups claimed that absent data on asbestos imported in goods like brake linings and knitted fabric, the EPA was violating its obligations under the TSCA to protect human health from the dangers of the chemical. Asbestos can be woven into textile to make it fireproof.

In a December decision, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen agreed, ruling that reporting exceptions for companies importing asbestos-containing materials amounted to "significant" loopholes. The judge directed the agency to take the necessary steps to collect the missing information.

In February the agency urged Chen to modify his judgment by scrapping his ruling's instructions. The EPA argued that he had exceeded remedies at his disposal under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The case is State of California et al v. United States Environmental Protection Agency et al, U.S. District Court for the California Northern District, No. 3:19-cv-03807.

For State of California et al: David Zonana with the California Department of Justice

For United States Environmental Protection Agency et al: Debra Carfora with the U.S. Department of Justice

Read more:

U.S. states sue EPA for stricter asbestos rules

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.