The EPA will no longer assess the health risks of asbestos in the environment, agency head Scott Pruitt announced this week — three decades after Donald Trump said the push to ban the cancer-causing agent and remove it from buildings was a Mafia-related conspiracy.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once widely used in building materials because of its resistance to heat and flame. In the early 20th century, inhaling asbestos dust was determined to scar lung tissue and cause cancer. Today, asbestos is implicated in the death of 15,000 Americans per year, many from a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma.
But in his 1987 biography "Art of the Deal," Trump claimed to know better, calling asbestos "100 percent safe once applied" and unveiling one of his early conspiracy theories for which there is no evidence: "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," he wrote. "Great pressure was put on politicians, and as usual, the politicians relented."
(As a real-estate developer who had begun to purchase and renovate old buildings such as the Plaza Hotel by that point, Trump had a vested interest in making that claim.)
The EPA's move this week is related to amendments made to the Toxic Substances Control Act in 2016, which requires the agency to do safety reviews of various chemicals and allows the agency to ban certain uses of asbestos, "Newsweek" reports. The EPA said it would continue to evaluate and require approval of asbestos use, but it would not consider the health risks of asbestos that's currently in the environment when doing so.
“If you don’t evaluate the dangerous legacy of asbestos you don’t know how much contamination still exists in the United States,” said Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “We know it’s in our homes, schools, workplace and environment, but the average American can’t identify and evaluate the risk. We have taken risk evaluation off the table.”
In a statement, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said that "Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are presiding over an attack on not just the spirit, but also the actual content," of the Toxic Substances Control Act. “Thousands of people die from asbestos-related cancers every year. Asbestos and other toxic substances will continue to contaminate our environment because Trump administration policies are contaminating the EPA.”
Neither the White House or the EPA would comment on the decision, "Newsweek" said.