Several White House staffers, including senior aides like Ivanka Trump and Larry Kudlow, have been forced to relocate from their offices due to the hazards posed by asbestos in the historic building. The $250,000-abatement project to remove the harmful materials is expected to take a few weeks. This highlights the ongoing need to recognize the presence and the risks of asbestos in older buildings and the president’s stance of current use of asbestos.
Asbestos in Older Buildings – Risks and Removal
The use of asbestos in the construction of buildings was once widespread. Construction workers were long put at risk of exposure to asbestos dust from insulation, wallboard, cements, adhesives, and may other materials. Now, people who live or work in older buildings are at risk.
Asbestos that is contained well is not much of a risk to human health. But any disruption of asbestos, through normal wear and tear, natural disasters, or maintenance work, can release harmful fibers into the air. Workers or residents in buildings with loose asbestos may inhale the fibers, which then can cause damage to internal tissues and organs, potentially leading to respiratory illnesses and cancers, particularly pleural mesothelioma.
Abatement is the process of removing asbestos and it must be done with care. If asbestos is secure and contained, abatement isn’t typically necessary. If it is going to be removed, the process requires specially trained workers with the right equipment.
The White House Project
In the White House, abatement teams are removing asbestos from the second floor of the West Wing. Several top aides as well as much of the legal team have been relocated for the duration of the project. Asbestos being removed is in the ceiling and attic spaces.
The abatement is expected to take through the end of August and to cost $250,000. A spokesperson for the U.S. General Services Administration has stated that the work is precautionary and that none of the people in the building right now are at risk of exposure.
Trump’s Controversial Position on Asbestos
Not only does the current abatement project in the White House serve as a reminder that asbestos is still all around us, it also calls to attention some of the positions Trump has taken on asbestos in the past. Long before running for president, in the 1990s, Trump stated in his book The Art of the Comeback that he believed anti-asbestos movements to be conspiracies led by the mafia. He took a stand for the safety of properly installed asbestos materials.
More recently, and as the president, Trump has continued to downplay the risks of asbestos. In 2017 the president cut back a review of asbestos and other harmful chemicals. The review had been mandated by Congress as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act. He has also appointed cabinet members, such as Scott Pruitt, briefly the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who favor industry over protecting the public from asbestos.
Consumers and voters need to be aware that asbestos is still around, even if there are restrictions in place to make it less common. The U.S. is one of very few industrialized countries that have still not placed an outright ban on this harmful substance. The current abatement project in one of America’s most famous buildings shows just how insidious and common asbestos is.