The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to a settlement resolving two lawsuits that claim the agency failed to properly evaluate the public health risks associated with talcum powder and other products containing toxic asbestos fibers. The asbestos settlement agreement was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on October 13, 2021. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), a nonprofit group whose goal is to prevent exposure to toxic asbestos and raise awareness about the risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, was the lead plaintiff in the litigation and was joined by other leading public health organizations and scientists. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another serious illness allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos, contact Consumer Safety Watch today to discuss your legal options.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral once widely used in construction and manufacturing because of its tensile strength and heat resistance. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, and its use is heavily regulated, but while other countries have banned asbestos altogether there has never been an outright ban on the mineral in the U.S. In fact, while asbestos can no longer be used in building materials, insulation, or vinyl floor tiles, asbestos and asbestos products, including aftermarket automotive brakes, brake linings, gaskets, other vehicle friction products, and brake blocks, are still imported into the country. This is despite the fact that asbestos exposure can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects, including mesothelioma, an aggressive and potentially deadly cancer with no known cure. Exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder has also been linked to ovarian cancer in women who use the powder for feminine hygiene purposes.
The EPA’s risk evaluation of asbestos was initiated in 2016 in response to an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which gave the EPA the authority to conduct risk evaluations of ten toxic chemicals that pose a potential risk to human health and the environment, including asbestos. Part 1 of the EPA’s Asbestos Risk Evaluation was released in December 2020, and it found “unreasonable risks to consumers and bystanders from all consumer uses of chrysotile asbestos,” which is the most common type of asbestos, accounting for roughly 95% of the asbestos in the U.S.
Days before the risk evaluation was released, a federal judge in California ordered the agency to improve its data collection regarding the amount of asbestos and asbestos products that are being imported into the U.S. The federal judge’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the ADAO and other groups aimed at closing the loopholes that exist in asbestos reporting rules and improving the EPA’s asbestos data. For instance, while the EPA claims that it has “sufficient information about asbestos use and exposure” to regulate the material and avoid unreasonable risk to human health and the environment, a petition filed with the EPA by a coalition of attorneys general in 2019 points out that the agency does not know “the quantity of asbestos contained within import products,” such as aftermarket auto brakes and linings, brake blocks, asbestos-containing sheet gaskets, cement products, woven products, and other gaskets and packaging.
“EPA cannot do its job to protect the public unless it has basic information on how much asbestos is entering the United States, and where it goes once it is here,” said Linda Reinstein, president and founder of ADAO, in response to the federal court’s ruling. “This win is an unequivocal rejection of EPA’s weak and inadequate protection of public health from a deadly substance.”
One of the biggest criticisms the EPA faced after releasing Part 1 of the Asbestos Risk Evaluation was its failure to address legacy asbestos, which can still be found in millions of older homes and commercial buildings across the country and is considered one of the biggest threats to public health and safety. In January 2021, the ADAO filed a petition for review and an intent to sue notice over the agency’s alleged failure to adequately evaluate the public health risks of all asbestos exposure in its risk evaluation. On October 13, 2021, the ADAO announced in a press release that the organization had reached two landmark settlements with the EPA aimed at strengthening the agency’s Asbestos Risk Evaluation. As part of the settlement agreement, the EPA will conduct a more thorough evaluation documenting the potential harm caused by asbestos exposure in the U.S. and will complete Part 2 of the Asbestos Risk Evaluation by December 1, 2024.
“The dangerously incomplete final risk evaluation understates the enormous toll of disease and death for which asbestos is directly responsible,” said Reinstein, after filing the petition for review and intent to sue notice. According to the ADAO, more than 40,000 Americans die every year from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer. And more than one million people have died due to asbestos exposure since the EPA last tried to ban asbestos in 1989. “We are pleased [with the settlement agreement] because a more robust and comprehensive evaluation will better document the immense harm asbestos continues to cause in the United States.”