Federal Lawsuit Takes Aim at EPA’s Asbestos Reporting Loopholes

A collection of environmental groups recently filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over claims the agency’s reporting practices essentially create loopholes that allow companies to avoid acknowledging asbestos may be present in their products. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and four other groups filed their claim in U.S. District Court for the District of San Francisco, challenging the agency’s decision to allow exemptions to asbestos reporting rules.

In addition to challenging asbestos reporting rules, the plaintiffs also criticized the EPA’s denial of a petition to impose stricter reporting requirements on companies that handle asbestos, essentially leaving the public in the dark about potential dangers of exposure. Despite federal regulators designating asbestos as a known carcinogen with no safe level exposure since the 1970s, there is still no outright ban on asbestos due to an Appeals Court ruling in the early 1990s.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim the lack of reliable data makes it especially difficult for the EPA to determine where asbestos is manufactured, processed, or imported in the United States which flies in the face of the agency’s duty to perform risk assessments for the mineral. In June 2017, the EPA released a scoping document identifying products that may contain asbestos but that document provides little if any information on the level of asbestos present, quantities imported, or nation of origin, according to the lawsuit.

These reporting rules were created in 2011 but have been slowly eroded by the EPA, particularly in July 2017 when the agency exempted one company that used asbestos to make chlorine and other chemical products, claiming “reporting is not required for ‘naturally occurring chemical substances.” The same group of plaintiffs in this lawsuit challenged that exemption in September 2018 but the EPA denied the request just three months later, claiming stricter reporting would not provide the agency with any new data and that the agency is “aware of all ongoing uses of asbestos and already has the information that EPA would receive if EPA were to amend the CDR requirements.”

Asbestos exposure is directly linked to developing mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer which commonly affects the thin linings of tissue surrounding vital organs like the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Despite there being to accepted safe level of asbestos exposure, large corporations continue to downplay the risk of adverse health effects when confronted with evidence their products were knowingly manufactured with the substance. Johnson & Johnson in particular is facing over 12,000 asbestos cancer lawsuits in state and federal courts across the country from victims and their family members.

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