Trump Says ‘Yes’ to Asbestos5th November 2018
Once hailed as wonder material for its insulative and fire resistant properties, asbestos quickly permeated our society, making its way into all manner of objects from gloves to concrete in the early 20th century. However, down the road, the devastating carcinogenic side effects of asbestos came to light. When disturbed, the needle-like fibres of asbestos are released which, when inhaled, penetrate deep into the respiratory system, having the potential to cause terminal illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Consequently, by the 1970s, asbestos had been phased out of construction in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried for a total ban in the late 1980s but, after manufacturers sued, a federal court blocked them. Asbestos is still allowed in a few products in the US, including brake pads, floor tiles and roof coatings – and still kills around 40,000 Americans annually.
However, thanks to a new supporter in the White House, this all might change.
Trump and asbestos
As a morally-grey New York City real estate developer, Trump has been a long-time supporter of the infamous material. In his book The Art of Comeback, he had the following to about its decline in usage:
“I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal. Great pressure was put on politicians, and as usual, the politicians relented. Millions of truckloads of this incredible fire-proofing material were taken to special ‘dump sites’ and asbestos was replaced by materials that were supposedly safe but couldn’t hold a candle to asbestos in limiting the ravages of fire”.
He also mentioned that asbestos was “100% safe after application”.
On June 1st, President Trump’s EPA enacted the Significant New Use Rule. Essentially, this means that the government is now allowed to evaluate asbestos on a case-by-case basis. That’s not all, however. Around the same time, The EPA released a new template for how it evaluates chemical risk. What’s included in this template isn’t as important as what they left out; namely, the potential effects of exposure to chemicals in the air, ground or water. It’s as crazy as it sounds: Trump has brought in a case-by-case risk evaluation, but removed the ‘risk’ element.
This legislative one-two punch is, in essence, a sneaky way for Trump’s EPA to sidestep an Obama-era law which required the EPA to evaluate hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals. Asbestos is among the first group of chemicals to be examined, and also the most obviously dangerous to public health.
So, what happens next?
Under the new rule, manufacturers of asbestos would have to notify the EPA before an product containing asbestos hits the shelves, giving them time to evaluate the item. However, due to the case-by-case nature of this evaluation, in theory, potentially deadly products could be approved. However, the EPA maintain this won’t happen: “By doing the SNUR, if someone wants to start the manufacturing and processing, if we find risk, we can prevent it”.
We will have to wait and see.
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