According to Donald Trump, asbestos has had a “bad rap” and the Twin Towers wouldn’t have collapsed if they had contained more of the substance. This belief is worrying on many levels, not least because this person may soon be leader of the free world.
The dangers of asbestos are indisputable and warnings are backed up by conclusive evidence, but America has yet to impose a complete ban on the substance. Some regulations are in place, and new uses of asbestos have been banned, but it continues to form part of many household goods.
Asbestos endangers the lives of construction and automotive workers in particular, being commonly used in roofing materials, gaskets, brake pads, and protective clothing.
America remains one of the few industrialised nations not to impose a total ban on asbestos. Although their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has attempted to introduce a ban in the past, it has failed on its journey through the Senate.
Asbestos and big business
Large corporate organisations have always held coercive power over the way asbestos is used in industry. Asbestos mining and manufacture was big business during the 20th century, with companies having significant influence over governmental plans to control its use.
Concerns over health and safety were often put to one side in the drive to make money – unfortunately at the expense of workers who suffered life-changing illness and terminal cancers from breathing in the dust and fibres.
An attempted ban on asbestos
In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban most uses of asbestos via the Toxic Substances Control Act. The Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule would have seen the end of importation, manufacture and distribution of asbestos-containing products.
Their efforts were thwarted, however, when the asbestos industry challenged the ban, citing job losses and economic hardship as factors that couldn’t be ignored.
In some quarters today, a lack of concern and cost-cutting still appear to take precedence over worker health – a sad indictment of a first-world industrialised nation that should lead by example.
“100% safe, once applied”
Donald Trump’s claim that asbestos is completely safe once installed, along with his connections to the construction industry, could hinder efforts to introduce a ban for some years, should he reach the White House.
And this is not the first time Mr Trump’s approach to health and safety has been a topic of discussion in the press. In 1998, the New York Times reported that Polish workers involved in the demolition of a building that would make way for Trump Towers, “often worked in choking clouds of asbestos dust without protective equipment.”
This lack of understanding and awareness of health and safety issues, asbestos in particular, appears to continue today. Mr Trump has blamed the Mafia for starting a conspiracy theory against asbestos, because “it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal.”
Will the clear and compelling evidence on the dangers of asbestos, gathered over many decades and by eminent scientists, continue to be ignored by the most powerful country in the world?