New Jersey is joining with 11 other states in claiming the federal government does not adequately regulate asbestos, a failure they contend opens the possible use of the carcinogen in new consumer products.
The attorneys general of a dozen states filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after having petitioned it to create a new rule requiring data collection on the importation and use of asbestos, a toxic substance the agency had mostly banned in 1989, but can still legally be imported and processed.
“Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year, but the Trump administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks the substances poses,’’ said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a press release announcing the challenge.
According to the plaintiffs, the EPA does not possess, and is not collecting, the necessary comprehensive data about the importation, processing and use of asbestos in some products.
“Undisputed evidence demonstrates that the manufacturing, importation, processing and use of asbestos-containing products present an unreasonable risk of injury and harm to human health and environment,’’ according to the lawsuit.
By failing to act on the states’ petition, the federal agency has impaired the ability of the states to identify and evaluate the universe of potential exposure pathways to asbestos, the lawsuit argued.
More than 12,000 deaths across the nation
From 2011 to 2015, the Centers for Disease Control reported there were 16,420 cases of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the chest and abdominal organs caused by asbestos fibers, resulting in 12,837 deaths nationwide.
New Jersey is the state with the eighth highest number of people who have died from lung cancer and asbestos-related diseases, according to a 2015 report by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund.
In May, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, announced plans to fully ban asbestos use, a step aimed at thwarting the EPA’s proposed rule to allow manufacturers to use the substance under certain limited circumstances. Pallone, who represents the 6th Congressional District, has a bill that would ban the manufacture, importation and transportation of asbestos.
In New Jersey, the state banned the use of asbestos earlier this year. “However, people should be protected from asbestos exposure wherever they go,’’ argued Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need a full nationwide ban on asbestos.’’
With the advent of the Trump administration, New Jersey has been very active in opposing various environmental rollbacks, including efforts to weaken fuel-economy standards for cars, proposals to relax tougher pollution standards for power plants and ease requirements for pesticide usage.