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Written on 23rd January 2017 by Martin Anderson

From the European Union to the Persian Gulf, from modern industrial countries like Japan to the developing economies of Africa, 55 nations have a ban on asbestos according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. But not in developing industrial powerhouses like China and India or even in some developed countries such as Russia, Canada and the United States. 

I was recently reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, written before he became a politician. When writing about his work as a Community Organiser in Chicago in the 1980s, he describes an incident of potential asbestos exposure in apartments owned by the Chicago Housing Authority and their attempts to cover it up from their tenants. After a CHA director falsely claimed that tests had been carried out and no asbestos was in the apartment buildings, the residents’ requests to see the tests were ignored. Obama then describes how he was able to use the media to publicly shame CHA into admitting that asbestos was present in the buildings. He then describes how, the following week, ‘men dressed in moon – suits and masks were seen all over the Gardens, sealing any asbestos that posed an immediate threat’ and that ‘CHA also announced that it had asked the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for several million dollars in emergency clean up funds’.

With this in mind, it is all the more surprising that asbestos has still not been banned in the United States, even after eight years of the Obama presidency. Even more surprisingly, no legislation to ban asbestos use has been presented since September 2008, before Obama came to office.

The Ban Asbestos in America Act was first put forward in 2002, which aimed to totally ban asbestos in the United States. In 2007, the bill passed in the Senate but died in the House of Representatives.

The Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act was introduced to Congress in September 2008. This aimed to ban more types of asbestos containing materials.  Even if this had passed, it would not have meant a total ban. Certain uses of asbestos would still have been allowed, such as in the production of chlorine.  However, the bill did not get through Congress and has not been presented again.

Public health advocates in the United States continue to support a full ban on asbestos, but no new legislation to ban asbestos has been put forward.

Worryingly, Donald Trump has described asbestos as “100 per cent safe” once it is installed and wrote in his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback: ‘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’. Even more bizarrely, he stated in 2005 that he thinks a lack of asbestos caused the twin towers to fall in the tragic events on September 11 2001.