“Trump is on our side”: A Russia-based asbestos maker sees an ally in the White House

Asbestos suppliers have faced a rocky road.
Asbestos suppliers have faced a rocky road.
Image: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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Asbestos kills. This well-accepted fact, along with the similarly lethal effects of asbestos litigation on manufacturers’ bank accounts, has seen the carcinogenic substance all but vanish from US building sites over the past decades. These days, where the biggest bucks are to be made in taking the stuff out, rather than supplying or putting it in, it’s hard to imagine a return to the wild ways of yesteryear, when asbestos was a common feature of drywalling, fireproofing, and a wide variety of other kinds of construction.

But in Asbest, Russia, that’s exactly what asbestos producers are hoping for—and they’re looking to US president Donald Trump to make it happen. Uralasbest, one of the country’s largest asbestos companies, believes that the current administration could be key to rehabilitating asbestos’ tarnished image, according to a report in the New York Times (paywall). “Trump is on our side,” Uralasbest chairman Vladimir V. Kochelayev told the newspaper.

Reports last year that under Trump the Environmental Protection Agency had relaxed asbestos regulations (paywall) remain contentious. The new protocol for asbestos regulation identifies 15 specific uses deemed risky enough to trigger a federal review, rather than leaving it open to all possible uses. While it does not seem to have been designed to make asbestos easier to use—the EPA says this would be a deeply unintended consequence—critics fear that this will nevertheless be the effect.

Regardless, Uralasbest is looking for glimmers of hope wherever it can find them. The US market imported just 750 tons of asbestos last year, down from 803,000 tons in 1973. If Trump’s promises of deregulation do extend all the way to asbestos, there’s lots of money to be made by the few manufacturers still in the game. A much-shared Facebook post from Uralasbest last year showed towers of asbestos pallets stamped with Trump’s face, under the slogan: “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States.” (It was later revealed to be a publicity stunt.)

Trump’s sometimes lackadaisical approach to government regulations—which he often sees as assaults on business, liberty, and common sense—has earned him admirers in other corners of commerce. In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission asked for a recall (paywall) of a jogging stroller with a treacherous faulty front wheel, following hundreds of complaints. The manufacturer, Britax, contested the need for that, with the case eventually winding up in court. After Trump appointees gave the CPSC’s oversight commission a Republican majority for the first time in over a decade, the agency settled on a simple public-safety campaign, as well as replacement parts or discounts on new strollers for affected users.