Donald Trump’s offensive comments and scandalous political maneuvers have not only kept him in the headlines, they’ve also — somehow — won him the Republican nomination for president. Despite providing constant coverage of his, at-times, circus-like campaign, only a few media outlets have examined Trump’s false claims about asbestos and what they might mean for millions of American workers and veterans.
In his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback, Trump stated that the lethal mineral fiber is “100 percent safe, once applied.” He also asserted that “the movement against asbestos was led by the mob.”
More recently, in 2012, Trump tweeted that the World Trade Center towers would not have burned down if they had been built with asbestos. The comment generated scorn from widows and loved ones of thousands of first responders who were killed by asbestos-related diseases, many of them at Ground Zero.
Comments like these are completely inaccurate: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) explicitly states that there is no “‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.” Recent reports find that asbestos-related diseases, which includes the rare cancer mesothelioma (caused exclusively by asbestos), kill between 12,000 – 15,000 Americans per year. Among the groups hit hardest by this death toll are middle-class workers in construction, firefighting, as well as veterans of the U.S. Navy.
But beyond their inaccuracy, Trump’s remarks are disrespectful to asbestos-exposure victims and their families. Dismissing a death toll of 15,000 people per year by saying that asbestos “just got a bad rap” is not just deceitful or inaccurate, it’s inhumane.
Trump’s History of Mob-Ties and Worker Abuse
Unfortunately, when Trump talks about mob-run companies in the construction industry, he is likely speaking from personal experience. The concrete used to build both Trump Tower and the Trump Plaza apartment building in New York City came from notorious mob leader Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno. A later court investigation found that Trump bought Salerno’s concrete at inflated prices, further proof that he was deliberately supporting the mob and not just “coincidentally” buying their concrete.
But perhaps more alarming than his mafia ties is Trump’s history of abusing workers. In 1980 some 200 undocumented Polish construction workers were hired to demolish the Bonwit Teller Building in preparation for erecting Trump Tower. Many of them were paid only $4 an hour, if paid at all. Several of the men later told The New York Times that “they often worked in choking clouds of asbestos dust without protective equipment.” Instead of compensating the Polish immigrants for their unnecessary suffering, Trump spent nearly 20 years fighting their claims in court, before finally settling.
Trump’s Disregard for 9/11 First Responders and Ongoing Illness
Trump’s disregard for workers carried right on through the 1990s and into the new millennium. In 2012, he wrote another perhaps ill-advised tweet claiming:
“If we didn’t remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn’t work, the World Trade Center would have never burned down.”
It is beyond ridiculous to claim that asbestos alone would have saved the World Trade Center towers from being struck by 2 airplanes. Furthermore, a report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that there were, in fact, asbestos fibers in the WTC wreckage. As of 2015, about 21,000 first responders were receiving treatment for cancer and associated illnesses caused by the toxic fumes rising out of the debris.
Rather than save anyone, asbestos fibers are still killing the brave men and women who saved lives and extinguished fires at the site of America’s worst terrorist attack. Instead of an asbestos apologist, first responders need a leader who will support medical assistance and compensation programs for emergency personnel. Though the Republican nominee likes to lean on his status as a New Yorker and his connection to 9/11, he was silent when it came time to support the renewal of the Zadroga Act, a bill that seeks to give federal healthcare to 9/11 first responders.
The Trump Administration Vs. Construction Workers
Taking into account Trump’s history of ignoring worker and first responder deaths, the question becomes: what will he do for these groups should he become president?
Trump has stated that if he were elected president he would all but destroy the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is in charge of regulating harmful substances like asbestos, lead, silica, and arsenic. As it is, the EPA lacks the authority it needs to sanction chemical companies – removing the agency altogether would be a huge step back for worker safety.
To put Trump’s extreme views into perspective, some the EPA’s staunchest opponents – including companies like Koch Industries, which depend on less-stringent regulation for industry profitability – actually agreed to give the agency more regulatory power in a rare bipartisan vote on toxic substance reform.
Even by the most hard-nosed industrial capitalists, Trump is seen as a kind of lunatic on the fringe. Not surprisingly, the Koch brothers dislike Trump, even though they share a political party. The billionaire owners of Koch Industries dislike the GOP nominee so much they’ve refused to give him any of their nearly $900 Million worth of campaign donations, and are instead considering abstaining from the general presidential election entirely.
You know you’ve gone off the deep end when your ideas are too cruel for the very kind of company that made thousands of workers ill in the first place. Trump’s ideas about asbestos are not just wild, they’re deadly to America’s most hardworking occupations.