MAGA: Making Asbestos Great Again? | Editorial

Posted May 20, 2019

Asbestos, which most people falsely assume has already been banned, still causes thousands of deaths a year. A study last year found nearly 40,000 Americans die annually from diseases related to its exposure – more than gun violence or traffic accidents.

Government regulators seemed poised to ban it for good. Then President Trump got elected. Our safety now rests in the delicate hands of a man who’s called routine vaccinations dangerous, and heavily restricted asbestos “100 percent safe.” Rest easy, kids.

In fact, asbestos is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in America. But don’t tell that to the federal agency whose mission it is to protect our health, which Trump has stocked with powerful industry insiders.

They are even considering a rule change that could allow new uses of asbestos – and in the meantime, are allowing it to be legally used in construction.

Asbestos is not just found in new building materials, like cement. If you go to an auto parts store, you could unknowingly buy brake pads made of asbestos. They’re imported, and there’s no restriction on importing asbestos. Scientists have even found it in tween makeup kits sold at the mall.

Now Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey is fighting to do what the Trump administration will not: Ban asbestos, period. More than 60 countries have done so, yet not the United States. Pallone’s bill would also have the Environmental Protection Agency do a full assessment of where the old asbestos still lurks in our buildings.

We know it’s there, because insulators who began work after asbestos installation was phased out in the U.S. are still showing a very high incidence of asbestos-related diseases, their union testified. One insulator who started his trade in 1993 died recently, at age of 45. Elevated levels of asbestos fibers were found in his lungs.

Guys like him are bringing asbestos home on their clothes – which is how Heather Von St. James learned she’d contracted a rare and deadly cancer caused by asbestos at age 36, right after her first and only child was born. Her father “handled asbestos and would come home each day covered in a greyish white dust,” she recalled.

Internal memos show scientists at the EPA wanted to ban asbestos outright, but were ignored. Instead, Trump’s EPA decided that when it assesses the risk, it will exclude any exposure to asbestos that’s already been installed. A huge omission.

A worker who handles new asbestos in cement could also suffer exposure from the old home he just demolished. Both affect the body. Without considering the cumulative risk, you don’t have a credible risk assessment.

This approach also violates the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg’s chemical safety law, which means that we can expect to find ourselves right back where we started in five years or so, after this gets kicked back by the court.

But Trump doesn’t think like a scientist or lawyer. He thinks like a super trustworthy real estate developer, who argues he shouldn’t have to pay to have asbestos removed, because it’s the best damn fire retardant out there – while fighting a policy that requires him to retrofit his high-rises with fire sprinklers, because it will cost him.

What matters is not public safety, or irony. It’s money. Now that he is president, Trump brings the same attitude to the EPA. And, as always, there is a Russia connection.

Vladimir Putin has campaigned to promote the use of asbestos. This even predates the Russian asbestos company that stamped Trump’s face on its products, because, “Trump is on our side.” He is making asbestos great again. You wonder if the MAGA-hats, some of whom work construction and live in old houses, really had that in mind.

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