White House Asbestos Risk Forces Top Staff Relocation
August 22, 2019
The offices of some of President Donald Trump’s top aides, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, have been temporarily relocated as the White House undergoes asbestos abatement work.
An asbestos removal project is underway at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and is expected to be completed by the end of August. The abatement work will cost about $250,000, according to Pamela Pennington, press secretary for the U.S. General Services Administration.
“The building has been, and remains, safe for occupancy as this work is being done as a precautionary measure,” Pennington said.
In addition to Ivanka and Conway, policy adviser Stephen Miller, top economic adviser Larry Kudlow and members of the White House legal team have been relocated during the abatement project.
Trump Has Praised Asbestos in the Past
Removing asbestos materials as a “precautionary measure” is an unusual action for the Trump administration.
The president has publicly advocated for asbestos in the past. In a 2005 U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, he suggested that the twin towers of the World Trade Center may still be standing if there was more asbestos in the buildings. He also stated that safer alternatives don’t stack up to the durability of the toxic mineral.
In his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback,” Trump claimed the anti-asbestos movement was a conspiracy led by the mafia and that asbestos was “100% safe, once applied.”
While the former seems farfetched, the latter is undeniably false. As asbestos materials age and break down over time, they pose a public health threat. Friable materials can release fibers that can unknowingly be inhaled or ingested, potentially leading to serious diseases later in life, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Aging asbestos-containing materials are often removed from older buildings, such as the White House, as a precautionary measure in the interest of public health.
Recent Actions Draw Support from Asbestos Industry
Since he has been president, Trump has drawn support from the chemical industry and politicians who back stricter asbestos litigation reform.
In November 2017, Trump scaled back a congressionally mandated review of asbestos and other deadly chemicals under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act after pushback from the chemical industry.
This was during the short tenure of Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt led or participated in 14 lawsuits aimed at blocking EPA regulations in his time as the Oklahoma attorney general.
In August 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior ordered an end to a National Academies study on the health risks of a common mining technique for people living near surface coal mine sites in Central Appalachia, an area ripe with natural asbestos deposits.
“Stopping this study is a ploy to stop science in its tracks and keep the public in the dark about health risks as a favor to the mining industry, pure and simple,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee of Natural Resources, said in a statement.
In the most bizarre show of support from the pro-asbestos faction, Russian mining company Uralasbest began stamping Trump’s face in red ink on wrapped pallets of raw chrysotile asbestos in July 2018.
“Donald is on our side! … He supported the head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who stated that his agency would no longer deal with negative effects potentially derived from products containing asbestos,” a translated Facebook post from Uralasbest read. “Donald Trump supported a specialist and called asbestos ‘100% safe after application.’”
The U.S. remains one of the only industrialized countries not to have a full ban on asbestos. The U.S. imported an estimated 750 metric tons of raw asbestos in 2018. All of it is used by the chlor-alkali industry, which is currently seeking an exception from a proposed U.S. asbestos ban.