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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to initiate rulemaking to collect data on and eliminate reporting exemptions for uses of asbestos, a long-known toxic carcinogen. California and Massachusetts previously led a multistate coalition in challenging the EPA’s failure to create a new rule requiring data collection on the importation and use of asbestos, and in December 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found in favor of the state attorneys general. In today’s settlement, the EPA agrees to complete rulemaking by specific deadlines consistent with the court’s summary judgment order and to not appeal the court’s ruling.
“The long-time failure of the EPA to regulate asbestos is an environmental injustice and public health tragedy,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As with so many environmental toxins, it is our low-income communities, communities of color, and young children who are disproportionately exposed to this deadly carcinogen and who suffer the resulting health consequences. Today's commitment by the Biden Administration's EPA to collect missing information about the import and use of asbestos is an important step toward ensuring all Americans live in a community that is healthy and safe.”
Asbestos – a carcinogen that takes 15,000 lives per year – is linked to diseases that are life-threatening, or cause substantial pain and suffering, including mesothelioma, fibrosis, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, as well as other lung disorders and diseases. There is no safe level of exposure to this highly toxic material. Currently, the EPA does not possess, and is not collecting, comprehensive data on the importing, processing and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing articles in the U.S. necessary to protect public health.
Following years of inaction, a coalition of state attorneys general petitioned the EPA in 2019 to initiate rulemaking on asbestos, and, following the EPA’s rejection of their petition, filed a lawsuit to compel the EPA to take action. On December 22, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found that the EPA’s denial of the coalition's petition violated the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court directed the EPA to initiate rulemaking to eliminate exemptions for asbestos in the current Chemical Data Reporting rule.
In today's settlement, conditioned on court approval, the EPA agrees to meet specific deadlines for the rulemaking process and to not appeal the court's decision. The EPA will publish a proposed rule no later than nine months after the effective date of the settlement and a final rule no later than 18 months after the effective date of the settlement. As part of the settlement, the states seek to amend their complaint to allege only a cause of action under the TSCA and agree to a slightly modified final judgment that directs the EPA to initiate rulemaking under the TSCA to address the information-gathering deficiencies that the court identified.
Attorney General Bonta and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey are joined in today's settlement by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the stipulation with the proposed order and the settlement agreement can be found here and here.