The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must improve its data collection system related to the volume of asbestos and asbestos-containing products entering the country, ruled a federal judge in late December.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco on Dec. 22 made the declaration stemming from a lawsuit filed by a number of nonprofit groups against the EPA. The plaintiffs made issue with a number of asbestos reporting loopholes that they contend must be closed. The EPA and Trump Administration have long believed that the current state of voluntary reporting by manufacturers and importers was enough.
California among states filing similar lawsuits
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra applauded the judge’s decision, stating in a release that it marked a crucial step in “eliminating exemptions that allow [asbestos] to harm our communities.”
California is among many states to file lawsuits against the EPA in 2019 due to the absence of asbestos reporting. Other states that have taken similar legal action include Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington as well as the District of Columbia.
In 2019, the U.S. imported roughly 100 metric tons of raw asbestos, representing the smallest amount in the 110 years that such records have existed, noted the U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries Report. (Imported products containing asbestos were not represented in the report.)
Why voluntary reporting?
In Chen’s ruling, the judge noted that even the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee agreed that the risk evaluation related to asbestos was inadequate. He also scolded the EPA for relying on voluntary reporting rather than its ability to require reporting through the Toxic Substances Control Act.
As a result, Chen ordered the EPA to change its Chemical Data Reporting Rule and improve its “information gathering deficiencies.”
Asbestos causes serious and, usually, terminal illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. In the U.S., an estimated 2,500 people die annually of mesothelioma, while 3,000 additional cases get diagnosed. The recent court ruling could have a profound effect on these numbers.