Energy & Environment

15 AGs petition Trump administration to draft asbestos rule

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The Attorneys General from 15 states are petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft a policy to collect more data on harmful asbestos.

The AGs from California and Massachusetts lead the group in asking the EPA to create a new reporting rule requiring those who import the cancer-linked mineral fiber or use it domestically to give the EPA more data on its use.

“Each year, tens of thousands die from exposure to asbestos,” said Massachusetts Maura Healey. “We urge Acting Administrator Wheeler to issue a rule that will protect the lives of thousands of workers, families and children in Massachusetts and across the country.”

Currently, importers of raw asbestos or articles that contain asbestos are exempt from having to report to EPA information about the products, according to the AGs.

The group argues that the information is necessary to protect the public from asbestos exposure. Their petition asks EPA to both eliminate the exemption for “naturally occurring substances” and require all imported articles containing asbestos to be reported to the EPA.


“It is widely known that asbestos is one of the most harmful chemicals known to humankind,” said California AG Xavier Becerra. “There is no excuse to continue allowing any amounts of toxic asbestos to pass into our community, especially into the lungs of workers and children, when we know the danger it presents. We call on Acting Administrator Wheeler to begin the process of eliminating exemptions that allow this unsafe chemical to continue to harm tens of thousands of people each year.”

Asbestos is not banned on the federal level, except for a few specific uses. A 2016 law gave the EPA new authority to prohibit the carcinogen.

Last June EPA introduced a proposal intended to require companies to notify the EPA if they planned to import or manufacture various out-of-date uses of asbestos, like roofing felt and floor tile.

The agency chose to list 15 known uses of asbestos, even though none are currently in use, and proposed companies be required to notify the EPA if they want to use asbestos in those situations, a move that would give the agency time to examine and potentially ban them.

It led to a firestorm, with news stories, denunciations and well-known figures like Chelsea Clinton and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) charging that the EPA is opening the door to asbestos — something the agency strongly refutes.

The EPA later pushed back with a PR blitz through interviews, social media and a fact sheet.

Internal EPA emails later reported by the New York Times showed that EPA staff also objected to the reporting change. Career staff involved with the development of a key proposal meant to prevent companies from returning to use of the carcinogenic chemical felt that steps being taken by senior officials could allow for some legacy uses to return anew.

Career staff pushed instead for a wider rule that would have encompassed all legacy uses of asbestos. 

EPA spokesman James Hewitt told the Times at the time that the emails showed some staffers “did not fully understand the proposal being developed.”

Last August another group of 12 AGs filed a comment with EPA opposing its new rule methodology, arguing that the agency was refusing to consider the most significant and dangerous exposure risks posed by the fiber.

Tags asbestos Attorney general Brian Schatz EPA toxic Xavier Becerra

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