The Return of Asbestos

August 16, 2018

For years, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked to keep people and the environment safe. The successes of the EPA are endless - from banning chlorofluorocarbons to making the air safe to breathe by reducing pollution. Another success of the EPA was the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulated the usage of harmful chemicals. Today, President Trump, who wants to cut one-third of the EPA’s funding, forty years of the EPA’s progress is being threatened to go down the drain with the EPA’s latest proposal on asbestos. The proposal will allow companies to use asbestos with approval and will cut down regulations on this toxic chemical.



Photo: Kai Dahms on Unsplash 


According to the EPA, “The greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects.” The EPA, as well as the global scientific community, acknowledges that asbestos can lead to health effects as severe as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Specifically, a study by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization reports that asbestos exposure is responsible for 39,275 deaths in America annually. Despite all of this, documents released by the EPA in June state that the organization intends to “dramatically scale back its safety evaluations for 10 chemicals [including asbestos] under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act.” It is clear that asbestos is a threat to health and safety, but the Trump administration doesn’t seem to find this alarming. The administration intends to allow and expand asbestos manufacturing and increase the limit on usage.


Despite the fact that scientific research and history have both proven the harmful health effects of asbestos, President Trump is unconvinced. The Washington Post reports that Trump has claimed that criticism against asbestos is simply a hoax. Trump claims that asbestos could have stopped the World Trade Center from burning down in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Trump has long been a supporter of asbestos as seen in his 1997 book, but only recently did Trump become the poster child for the chemical. Russian asbestos company, Uralasbest, packages their product with pictures of Trump on its seal. The company has tweeted that “Donald is on our side,” and has also previously received support from Russian President Vladimir Putin. This, coincidentally, occurred around the same time as the EPA proposal to deregulate asbestos.


It is difficult to say whether or not this new EPA proposal has any connection with the Russian company. Until 2017, 95% of asbestos in the United States came from Brazil and 5% from Russia. Now that Brazil has banned asbestos, Russia has gained the opportunity to take over, with the support of President Trump. The new EPA proposal would expand the industry and provide even greater opportunities for the Russian company, and this may or may not have something to do with the rationale. Regardless, Trump’s vocalization of his support of asbestos is truly nothing new.


The EPA proposal has been met with a plethora of criticism. In the past, asbestos has been criticized by the World Health Organization, and the proposal has received backlash from the nonprofit organization known as the Environmental Working Group. Emails from within the EPA obtained by the New York Times reveal that many of the employees themselves are in opposition to the new provisions. It seems clear that we cannot afford to risk our safety by allowing more asbestos into America, given the statistics that point against it. With the coming policy, it is important that we monitor the effects of the policy and express our concerns. In the end, the Trump administration and the EPA will have to listen to the voice of America.


Uma Menon is a high school student from Winter Park, Florida. She has enjoyed writing from a young age; her poetry and articles have been featured in various national magazines. Uma is a nationally-ranked debater at Winter Park High School. She is also an activist for net neutrality, gun control, and education as a human right, among other issues.


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