In a win for environmental and public health groups, the US Environmental Protection Agency committed to broadening and speeding up its review of the health risks of asbestos under two legal settlements on Oct. 12.
Asbestos is one of the first 10 substances the EPA evaluated under the 2016 revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The agency released its final assessment Dec. 30, 2020, finding unreasonable risks to workers and consumers who handle many products containing asbestos, including chlor-alkali diaphragms used by the chemical industry to produce chlorine.
But the EPA did not evaluate risks from legacy uses of asbestos, such as in insulation and other construction materials that are still found in older buildings. The EPA also did not consider all forms of asbestos and instead focused only on chrysotile, the type of asbestos imported into the US. The EPA said it would evaluate legacy uses in a separate evaluation, but it did not provide a timeline for completing it.
Advocacy groups challenged the assessment, arguing that the EPA overlooked many sources of asbestos exposure and underestimated the toll the substance has on human health. In a separate suit, the groups sought an enforceable deadline for the EPA to complete the second assessment related to legacy uses of asbestos.
To settle the suits, the EPA agreed to expand the scope of the second asbestos assessment to address legacy uses as well as deficiencies in the first assessment, including consideration of all six types of asbestos fibers, health risks of asbestos in talc products, exposure to vulnerable subpopulations, and reasonably foreseen uses omitted in the first part.
The EPA also agreed to complete the second assessment by Dec. 1, 2024. “After years of delay, we will finally have an enforceable court order that assures that EPA performs its legal duty to determine the risks of legacy asbestos,” Bob Sussman, counsel to the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, one of the plaintiffs in the suits, says in a statement. “This is encouraging progress in the long battle for effective use of TSCA to recognize and protect the public from the enormous harm that asbestos is still inflicting across the country,” he adds.