By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - Ten U.S. states and Washington, D.C. sued the Environmental Protection Agency to begin working on rules to tighten oversight of asbestos, and reduce the health risks that the substance poses to the public.
The attorneys general from California and Massachusetts, Xavier Becerra and Maura Healey, said on Monday they are leading the case, after the EPA denied the states' petition that it collect more data on asbestos.
A spokesman for the EPA and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said the agency does not discuss pending litigation.
Asbestos is a carcinogen once used widely in fireproofing and insulation. Many companies stopped using it by the mid-1970s after it was linked to mesothelioma and other types of cancer.
Federal law still allows limited uses of asbestos, and Congress in 2016 amended the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to create a process for regulating the substance. Symptoms from asbestos exposure can take decades to surface.
"Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year, yet the Trump administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks it poses," Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement.
"There's too much at stake to let the EPA ignore the danger that deadly asbestos poses to our communities, including to workers and children," added Becerra, also a Democrat.
Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington state joined the lawsuit.
The EPA has said protecting people from asbestos exposure is a priority, including through an April rule giving it power to review asbestos products that were no longer on the market before they could be sold again in the United States.
In denying the states' petition, the EPA determined that it was already aware of all current uses of asbestos, and had the essential information needed to assess the risks, according to the Federal Register.
But the states believe this denial was arbitrary and capricious, and violated the EPA's obligations under the TSCA.
The lawsuit was filed late on Friday in the federal court in Oakland, California.
It is one of many lawsuits by Democratic-controlled or Democratic-leaning states challenging policies by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, including the rolling back of some environmental protections.
The case is California et al v Environmental Protection Agency et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 19-03807.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)