Fact: asbestos is an extremely toxic substance. Between 12,000-15,000 Americans die every year every year from asbestos-related diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists asbestos as a Type I carcinogen (without a doubt carcinogenic), while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) repeatedly states “There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.”
Over 100 years of scientific research has proven again and again, through countless studies, the undeniable truth: asbestos is a silent killer. Because of all of the irrefutable evidence of asbestos’s deadliness, 58 countries worldwide have banned the toxic mineral outright. This makes sense, right?
Well, not according to President Donald Trump.
Trump has long espoused the view that asbestos is “100 percent safe” and should be used more often. Trump once said that the movement to ban asbestos is a conspiracy “led by the mob,” and in 2012 he even went so far as to tweet that there should have been asbestos in the Twin Towers (there was, and hundreds of rescue workers have died because of it).
Though the Obama administration made steps towards banning the use and importation of asbestos, specifically by convincing Congress to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), this progress could be undone under President Trump. If the Senate confirms Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA, this will almost certainly be the case.
Leading the EPA, or Dismantling It?
Like Trump, Pruitt seems oblivious to scientific fact. He believes mercury is not toxic and that global warming doesn’t exist. He once argued that companies accused of pollution were being charged with “pretended offenses.” Pruitt has sued the EPA 13 times, and he also enjoys close ties to the oil and gas industry.
It may come as no surprise that Pruitt recently said he would not ban asbestos if elected as EPA Administrator. When asked about asbestos in a written question from the Senate, Pruitt said that the deadly mineral needed further “risk evaluation,” adding: “Prejudging the outcome of that risk evaluation process would not be appropriate.”
To reiterate the facts: for decades, scientists have known that asbestos kills people and that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Every year, thousands of people die because they were exposed to asbestos. In fact, according to Senator Edward Markey’s (D-MA) challenge to nominee Scott Pruitt, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that from 1999 – 2014, nearly 63,000 deaths have occurred because of asbestos.
Scientists and citizens alike are frightened at the prospect of Scott Pruitt leading the EPA. Christie Todd Whitman, former EPA Administrator under George W. Bush, said Pruitt was especially unfit for the job. Whitman said Pruitt is “disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”
The EPA was created in 1970 in order to protect the American people from toxic hazards and provide them with a clean environment. The agency is crucial in keeping Americans safe from hazardous materials and pollution. If the EPA’s regulations did not exist, not only would the wildlife and landscape be at risk, so too would be the American people. For this reason, Pruitt’s confirmation as head of the EPA would have deadly consequences.
It’s easy to see why Trump likes Pruitt. Both men like twisting reality, asserting “alternative facts” (lies) in response to actual facts (scientific evidence).
For years, Trump has been putting his own spin on science. He used Twitter to reject the idea of global warming and assert that vaccinations definitely give children autism. When American healthcare workers were fighting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and became infected, Trump tweeted: “People that go to faraway places to help out are great – but must suffer the consequences!”
Deceitful statements like these are not unique to Trump’s Twitter feed. In the 2015 biography written about him, Never Enough, Trump said he felt like he “was in the military in the true sense” because he attended an expensive, private military academy as a child. Though Trump never served in the armed services himself, and such a claim is offensive to the millions of veterans who did, this didn’t stop him from criticizing Senator John McCain (R-AZ) by stating that he was only “a war hero because he was captured” and that Trump only liked “the people who weren’t captured.”
What All the Science and the Studies Really Say
As wild and downright disrespectful as some of these comments are, one of Trump’s most far-fetched and dangerous claims is that the World Trade Center would never have been destroyed, “if we didn’t remove [the] incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn’t work.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, the science just simply doesn’t agree with him. Asbestos and its effects on the human body are well established. The first documented asbestos-related death occurred in 1906 and was recorded as such by Dr. Montague Murray. Murray’s patient, a 33-year-old textile worker, had high quantities of asbestos in his lungs and as a result, died of pulmonary fibrosis.
Over a century has passed and there is no longer any controversy or gray area. Asbestos is a lethal mineral. Studies have determined that mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer, is caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Cancer research conducted in the late 70s predicted that, for the next 20 years, up to 18 percent of cancer cases in the U.S. would be related to asbestos.
The Reality about Asbestos Proves Trump’s Statement Is Flat-Out Poor Taste
Starting in the early 1970s, the federal government began regulating the use of asbestos and eventually banned it from many construction applications by the end of the decade. Since that time, buildings and school districts all over the country have invested millions of dollars in asbestos-removal projects. If there were really any questions about the danger of this near-invisible and indestructible fiber, there wouldn’t be such a widespread and long-standing effort to get it out of our public institutions.
It’s not surprising that Mr. Trump supported asbestos, considering that this material was used extensively in his Trump Tower, where it put the very construction workers who built the mammoth, 98-floor building, at risk.
The shady contractor working under Trump hired over 200 illegal Polish immigrants as part of the construction team. None of the employees were given hard hats and they were paid less than half of the minimum wage mandated by the construction union. A 1998 article by the New York Times reported that the illegal workers “often worked in choking clouds of asbestos dust without protective equipment.”
Trump, for his part, denied knowing anything about the poor working conditions. He further denied knowing that his employees were undocumented.
The Polish employees eventually banded together and filed a class-action lawsuit against Trump for not paying them. After 8 years of legal battles, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that Trump conspired with his construction contractor to withhold wages from the worker unions. Despite this ruling, both sides of the legal dispute made appeals and the case waged on for another decade before reaching a settlement. In the meantime, many of those workers lived in poverty and some of them died.
CEOs and Other Executives Often Turn a Blind Eye in Favor of Profit
In truth, Trump is only one in a long line of corporate executives who hope to cover up the dangers of asbestos.
Documents exist showing that several large companies have been aware of the dangers of asbestos since 1934, but that they’ve worked to keep such knowledge hidden from the public. A 1978 article in the Washington Post reported that the Johns-Manville Corporation – then the largest manufacturer of asbestos-containing products – had a company policy of not telling its employees that their medical exams revealed signs of the fatal lung disease, asbestosis. This meant that many men and women were not only deathly ill, but being actively deceived by the company for which they worked.
Money Buys “Convenient” Science
A similar incident happened with Georgia-Pacific, a corporation that produced an asbestos-containing substance known as joint compound. Instead of ceasing production on the joint compound immediately and compensating the hard-working employees who got sick, Georgia Pacific paid a team of scientists $6 Million to conduct private research. The point of this research was to “disprove” the harmful effects of asbestos.
In both of these cases, billion-dollar corporations used their money to rewrite history and change the laws of science. Denying the known dangers of asbestos is a convenient way for big businesses to duck out of any moral responsibility towards their employees and customers. Instead of offering medical assistance to people who became sick from their products, these companies used money and deception to avoid receiving blame and to protect future profits. Political beliefs aside, the American public needs its business leaders and government officials to be honest and keep the best interests of its working class in mind.
Not Under Their Watch
It’s clear President Trump nominated Scott Pruitt not because he would do a good job managing the EPA and protecting the American people, but because Pruitt would dismantle and destroy the very agency he was given to lead. The EPA is an integral part of the federal government, and without its proper functioning, millions of Americans could be injured by pollution and exposure to toxic materials like asbestos.
When the Senate committee tasked with considering Pruitt as head of the EPA was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, all 10 committee Democrats boycotted the meeting. The democrats said Pruitt had denied answering important questions that pertained to his potential role as head of the EPA.
We can only hope that the democrats in the committee can succeed in preventing Pruitt from taking over the EPA. Thousands of people are already dying each year from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. If Trump and Pruitt cripple the EPA and remove regulation relating to asbestos, who knows how high the death toll will climb.