The Trump administration has recently moved forward with a proposal that could revive commercial use of cancer-causing asbestos. This would pose serious health consequences for American workers and their families, who are still dealing with the effects of the widespread use of the carcinogen throughout the 20th Century.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring silicate fiber, was widely used as an insulator and fire retardant until medical evidence linked it to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other diseases. The material becomes harmful when it is disturbed, releasing tiny fibers into the air. When inhaled, these fibers can become lodged in the lungs or other tissue, causing often-fatal illnesses.
EPA Rule Opens Door
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a so-called “significant new use rule” under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, requiring companies to receive agency approval before starting or resuming the manufacturing, importing or processing of asbestos. The EPA would then evaluate the intended use of the material on a case-by-case basis, determining whether to limit or prohibit the proposed use.
The EPA says the new process is meant to provide new scrutiny and restrictions to some asbestos products. However, the proposed rule contains obvious, gaping loopholes that could expand asbestos use. Instead of an outright ban on abandoned uses for asbestos like gaskets, sealants and roofing felt, the new rule leaves the door open for agency approval that revives those uses.
In addition, the new rule only lists 15 specific uses that would trigger the scrutiny, meaning that other uses would avoid such assessment.
Banned Nearly Everywhere but U.S.
More than 60 nations have issued outright bans on asbestos. However, while its use has declined greatly in the United States and it is no longer mined in this country, its use has never been totally prohibited. The EPA issued a rule in the 1980s banning most asbestos-containing products, but a federal appeals court overturned it for current uses, thus prohibiting only new uses for the material. Still many uses have been abandoned due to the health effects.
Those effects have been devastating. Asbestos-related diseases are an epidemic in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that 45,000 people had died from mesothelioma from 1999 through 2015, with number of deaths per year climbing five percent over that time. Non-profit activist organization Environmental Working Group estimated that 1 in 125 men over the age of 50 die from asbestos exposure.
Particularly hard-hit have been the construction and ship-building industries but anyone exposed to the disturbed material can suffer adverse health effects. In addition, asbestos was used quite extensively by the military, exposing veterans to the risk of deadly diseases.
And it is not just the workers who are at risk, with more and more evidence showing that family members can become ill after being exposed to the substance brought home by workers on their shoes, clothing hair and skin.
Asbestos is also prevalent in public buildings like schools. More than half of all schools in the United States were built before 1975, when asbestos was widely used. Students, teachers and other school employees are therefore at risk.
‘Approved by Donald Trump’
Adding to the speculation that the EPA proposal is a backhanded way of reviving asbestos use is President Donald Trump’s own obsession with the material. Trump has often called for the use of asbestos, ignoring the well- established scientific evidence linking the material to fatal diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In his 1997 book “The Art of the Comeback,” Trump espoused a conspiracy theory blaming the disappearance of material on “mob-related companies” profiting from asbestos removal.
He also tweeted in 2012 that the World Trade Center would not have collapsed on 9/11 if asbestos had been used in its construction. Of course, asbestos was indeed used in the WTC and many rescue workers have died from diseases linked to asbestos exposure.
Trump’s fondness for the material has not gone unnoticed. Shortly after the EPA proposed the rule in June, Russian mining company Uralasbest, one of the world’s largest asbestos producers, posted photos on social media of pallets of asbestos stamped with a seal depicting Trump’s face and reading, “Approved by Trump, the 45th President of the Unites States.”
The EPA had received nearly 6,000 comments before August deadline. The medical community and environmental groups have particularly been vocal in opposition to the new rule.
But your voice is needed, too. Speak to your representatives in Congress. Let them know that this rule must be stopped.
In addition, people should not be afraid to hold accountable those companies that have profited from the use of asbestos at the expense of public health. Lawsuits and punitive damages are powerful—and necessary—tools to protect the public.
Also, educate yourself about the effects of asbestos exposure to ensure you are healthy and protected. For instance, some symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, extreme weight loss and fatigue.
If you think you’ve suffered from any health issues related to asbestos exposure and would like help with a filing a claim, contact our attorneys today.