By Sam Pearson

The EPA should require companies to report their annual imports and uses of asbestos to inform an ongoing risk assessment of the cancer-causing mineral, six public health organizations said in a petition filed Sept. 26.

In a rulemaking petition sent to the Environmental Protection Agency, groups including the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization said the EPA needs the information from companies to ensure that a pending risk assessment of asbestos is realistic.

Depending on what the risk assessment concludes, the EPA could require controls for the mineral fiber.

Every four years, companies have to report the types, quantities, and uses of chemicals produced domestically and imported into the U.S. for substances present in large volumes, and the petitioners argued the EPA is granting too many exceptions to those rules.

The Big Picture

The groups said the EPA isn’t taking enough steps to get the full picture for asbestos. Sufficient levels of exposure to the fiber can lead to lung disease and cancer, according to the EPA.

The six groups include the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, American Public Health Association, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Environmental Working Group, and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.

Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, but a few companies import it to manufacture chloralkali products such as chlorine, caustic soda, and other commodity chemicals. The trade group the American Chemistry Council emphasizes the public health applications of chlorine including uses in sanitizing water and buildings.

Natural Enough?

During the 2016 reporting period, Axiall Corp. and Olin Corp. reported their imports of asbestos to the EPA, but Occidental Chemical Corp. didn’t.

Occidental said the information didn’t have to be submitted because the rule exempts naturally occurring substances, and the EPA agreed. Occidental Chemical Corp.’s action complies with the reporting requirements, Eric Moses, a spokesman for the company, said in an email to Bloomberg Environment.

These kind of data gaps bode poorly for the agency’s risk assessment of asbestos, Robert Sussman, a lawyer in Washington who is working with the groups, told Bloomberg Environment.

Under the nation’s primary chemicals law, the EPA must complete risk evaluations of asbestos and nine other chemicals by December 2019, with a grace period of up to six months.

“If EPA doesn’t have good information on all the various uses of asbestos that are out there, they will not be able to do a good risk evaluation,” Sussman, a former EPA official, said.

“I don’t know that the conclusions that they reach will be very well informed or necessarily protective of public health. They may make assumptions that are just not realistic.”

Seeking Stricter Limits

The health groups want the EPA to issue a regulation clarifying that reporting asbestos use or importation should not be exempted.

They also want companies to report asbestos-containing articles, make the threshold for reporting asbestos use lower than for other substances, and block companies from withholding the files as confidential business information.

“It’s an absolute human right to know whether asbestos might be in your home, school, or community,” Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, told Bloomberg Environment.

The agency has 90 days to respond to the petition or face possible legal action. The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg Environment, but typically doesn’t comment on pending or possible litigation.