Some of President Trump’s most cartoonishly evil policy initiatives have come at the expense of the environment. In the past few months alone, his administration has lifted a ban importing big-game hunting trophies, sought to repeal California emissions standards and released a plan to gut the Endangered Species Act. It’s all done in the name of unmitigated capitalism, to which the president clearly feels the environment is beholden. So too, apparently, is the health of Americans, as the Environmental Protection Agency is now allowing asbestos to be legally used in construction.
On June 1st, the EPA enacted the Significant New Use Rule, which allows the government to evaluate asbestos use on a case-by-case basis. Around the same time, the EPA released a new framework for how it evaluates chemical risk. Not included in the evaluation process are the potential effects of exposure to chemicals in the air, ground or water. It’s as absurd as it sounds. “It is ridiculous,” Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who recently retired after four decades at the EPA, told the New York Times. “You can’t determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation.”
The new evaluation framework is a nifty way for the EPA to circumvent an Obama-era law requiring the EPA to evaluate hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals. Asbestos is among the first batch of 10 chemicals the EPA will examine, and also one of the most blatantly dangerous to public health. Its use is banned in over 60 countries, and though it is only heavily restricted in the United States, asbestos is no longer used in construction because of the health risks it poses. Direct or indirect exposure to the carcinogen can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, and it has been found to kill 40,000 Americans annually. The World Health Organization wrote that “all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis.”
As an amoral New York City real estate developer, Trump has long supported the use of asbestos. In his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback, the future president wrote that asbestos is “100 percent safe, once applied,” despite the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the contrary. Here’s what else Trump had to say about the carcinogen:
“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.”
Trump has also on multiple occasions blamed the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers on the absence of asbestos. In June, All in With Chris Hayes aired a clip of Trump defending the material before Congress in 2005. “A lot of people say that if the World Trade Center had asbestos is wouldn’t have burned down, it’s wouldn’t have melted. OK?,” he said. “A lot of people in my industry think asbestos is the greatest fireproofing material ever made.” Trump went on to compare asbestos to a “heavyweight champion” compared to other building material, which he likened to a “light-weight from high school.”
He reiterated his claim that a misplaced fear of asbestos was responsible for World Trade Center’s collapse on Twitter in 2012.
As Hayes notes, Trump’s penchant for asbestos is almost certainly due to the cost of having it removed, which was undoubtedly a nuisance to a man known for stiffing contractors and cutting every regulatory corner imaginable. In the late-’90s, right around the time he was praising asbestos for how well it prevented fires, Trump did all he could to fight a bill proposed by then-mayor Rudy Giluiani that would have required all residential buildings to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems. The New York Times noted at the time that Trump placed calls to multiple city officials expressing “concern about the high cost of installation and other problems that he had with sprinklers.” The version of the bill that ultimately passed applied mostly to new buildings, meaning Trump Tower was exempt. The issue was brought back into focus this April, when a blaze in Trump Tower killed one man. The 50th-floor apartment that caught fire did not have any working smoke detectors, nor did it have a sprinkler system, thanks in part to Trump’s lobbying efforts 20 years ago.
It’s ironic, then, that Trump’s praise of asbestos has centered around its fireproofing capabilities. Irony died when Trump was elected, though, and now that he is president he no longer has to work the phones to get environmental- or health-related regulations slashed; he can just tell the lackeys he installed at the EPA to go ahead and do it, which they have.
As with many of his more insidious actions as president, there’s a Russia connection. As the Washington Post points out, until recently, 95 percent of asbestos used in the United States came from Brazil, while the rest came from Russia. But the South American nation recently banned the mining and sale of the toxic substance, opening the door for Russia to fill the gap, which will be even larger if the U.S. resumes using the carcinogen in building materials. Russian asbestos manufacturers are thrilled. In July, the Russian company Uralasbest posted an image of its asbestos packaging, which features a smirking President Trump.
“Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States,” the packaging reads. And because The Simpsons has already predicted many things in the Trump universe, here’s this: