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State Attorneys General Sue EPA for Stricter Asbestos Rules

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Eleven Democratic attorneys general from across the country recently announced in a press release that they have filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) for failure to initiate effective asbestos regulation.

In January 2019, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a petition urging the EPA to issue new regulations and provide data on the importation and use of asbestos in the United States. The EPA responded in April 2019 by denying the petition and announcing a new rule authorizing the EPA to review and potentially approve the sale of new and previously prohibited asbestos products in the marketplace.

The rule was approved against the advice of many of the EPAs own scientists and senior officials. “Asbestos is an extremely dangerous substance with no safe exposure amount,” Mark Seltzer, an attorney who has been with the EPA for more than a decade, said in an internal email within the EPA. “Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, the EPA should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit — and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos,” a staff member wrote.

California Attorney General Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Healy countered with the most recent lawsuit, joined by attorneys general from Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. The case seeks to compel the EPA to promulgate rules tightening, not loosening, oversight of asbestos, and reducing the health risks asbestos poses to the public. A copy of the complaint can be found here.

“Asbestos is one of the most harmful and toxic chemicals known to humankind,” California AG Becerra said in a press release about the lawsuit. “There’s too much at stake to let the EPA ignore the danger that deadly asbestos poses to our communities.”

“Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year, yet the Trump Administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks it poses for our residents.” Massachusetts AG Healey said in response.

“The EPA can’t adequately assess the human health risks posed by asbestos if it doesn’t even know how much of this highly toxic substance is coming into the country,” Washington AG Bob Ferguson states on his website. This is the 40th lawsuit Ferguson has filed against the Trump Administration, with 21 legal victories so far.

“We are asking the EPA to do what it’s supposed to do—protect Americans from deadly toxins.” Maryland AG Brian E. Frosh said in a statement. “The failure to regulate asbestos, or to collect data on its adverse health impacts, lands squarely on the shoulders of the EPA’s administrator,”

“Asbestos is a dangerous and deadly carcinogen. Without comprehensive data on where asbestos is processed and used, we simply cannot adequately protect the public from this toxic threat. We have filed this lawsuit to force the EPA to fulfill its obligations under federal law.” Connecticut AG William Tong said in his announcement of joining the suit.

The filing of this case comes as the EPA is defending multiple lawsuits in response to attempts to rollback and strip countless regulations and protections put in place during the Obama administration. In June 2019, a nonprofit sued the EPA for removing qualified scientists from 23 advisory committees and replacing them with industry representatives.