Democratic attorneys general from across the country have filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing the agency has failed to effectively regulate asbestos.
The agency announced a rule in April to restrict the substance but stopped short of banning it outright, a move critics say could open the door to new uses of asbestos.
“It is widely acknowledged that asbestos is one of the most harmful and toxic chemicals known to humankind,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a release about the lawsuit. “While it’s troubling that we must once again take the EPA to court to force the agency to do its job, we won’t pull any punches. There’s too much at stake to let the EPA ignore the danger that deadly asbestos poses to our communities.”
The attorneys general had previously petitioned the EPA to create a new rule requiring data collection on the importation and use of asbestos, something the agency denied around the time in unveiled its new rule. The suit would force the agency to issue a new asbestos reporting rule.
Officials have known for decades that asbestos causes illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. The EPA’s April rule was the first action the agency took on the substance in 30 years, but it was panned by critics as a half measure that could reintroduce some asbestos products to the market.
“This new rule makes it more difficult for industry to resume some abandoned uses of asbestos, but that is a half step at best,” Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, wrote in a press release at the time. An outright ban “is the only way the public can trust industry will never again be able to use this dangerous material that has literally killed tens of thousands of Americans.”
The EPA has not ruled out an asbestos ban under its new rule.
“If there is any unreasonable risk, the EPA will regulate, and our regulation could take the form of a ban,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention told The Hill in April.
But many Democratic say they’ve lost patience with the agency, expressing concern that agency scientists who recommended a full ban were ignored by top EPA officials. In May, House Democrats held a hearing on a bill that would force the agency to do so.
In addition to California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are parties in the suit