Health advocates threaten lawsuit against firm importing asbestos to U.S.

[This post is dedicated to Doug Larkin. Doug was the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. He suffered in recent years with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and passed away yesterday.] 

Dallas-based OxyChem imports about 300,000 pounds of asbestos each year. Yes, asbestos. The deadly mineral that most Americans think is banned (it’s not) and responsible for about 15,000 U.S. cancer deaths annually.

OxyChem is likely the largest asbestos importer in the U.S. The company is required under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to report its asbestos imports to the EPA. A group of health advocates assert that the firm failed to do so. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO); Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF); and Environmental Health Strategy Center are using TSCA’s “citizen enforcement” provision (15 USC 53 §2619) to alert OxyChem of their “notice of intent to file suit” because of company’s failure to report their asbestos imports.

OxyChem uses asbestos in its outdated chloralkali technology to produce chlorine. Plants in Europe, however, have moved to more advanced and safer technology which doesn’t rely on the deadly carcinogen. Of the 31 countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association, only one chloralkali plant out of 75 is still using asbestos in their chlorine production process.

The health groups relied on commercially-available U.S. Customs and Border Protection records to identify OxyChem’s asbestos imports. The records revealed imports totally nearly 900,000 pounds during 2013 through the end of 2015. Most of the shipments—more than 20 in total—come from the one remaining asbestos mine in Brazil. The import data, however, does not match up with records required by EPA. The health groups found this out by filing a FOIA request with EPA to determine whether OxyChem complied with EPA’s Chemical Data Reporting (40 CFR, Part 711.) It requires firms to report every four years their use of certain “significant” chemicals. Asbestos is one of those “significant” chemicals and users are required to report quantities that exceed 2,500 pounds per facility per year. OxyChem’s use of asbestos over the last four years should have been reported to EPA by October 31, 2016.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) recently submitted comments to EPA on documents the agency is preparing pursuant to the 2016 amends to TSCA. In their comments, ACC insists that asbestos can be used safely. That EPA should believe ACC’s assertions that chloralkali plants, such as OxyChem’s, are pristine, error-free operations in which asbestos never touches human hands or enters the air or surrounding environment. ACC also conveniently ignores the life cycle of the toxic, from the asbestos exposure that occurs in the Brazilian mining town of Minacu, the processing and shipping, to the handling, use and disposal of asbestos somewhere in the U.S.

I tip my hat to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), and Environmental Health Strategy Center for using TSCA’s “citizen enforcement” provision. OxyChem and EPA have until the end of July to respond to the health groups’ notice of intent to sue. If EPA fails to take action to compel OxyChem to comply with the TSCA reporting provision, the health groups could file a lawsuit in a U.S. district court.