Saturday, August 6, 2016

Donald's Dust: Asbestos, the World Trade Center and The Dangerously Wrong Opinions of Trump

by Nomad

Trump's love for the cancer-causing material asbestos goes back for decades. Trump has boasted of its effectiveness and safety before the Senate. Tell that to the firefighters, cleanup crews, and first responders who were exposed to the 400 tons of asbestos that blanketed the streets of Manhattan on September 11. 

The Conspiracy Theory that Trump Doesn't Talk About

For a man who enjoys his conspiracy theories, Donald Trump seems pretty ignorant of some of the most interesting ones. One 9/11 conspiracy theory that made the rounds involved the suspicion of an inside job and billion dollar insurance fraud. 

For what it's worth, the theory runs something like this:
Six months prior to the attack, the WTC was privatized and, after drawn-out negotiations, finally leased to a private developer. On July 24, 2001, just six weeks before 911, that $3.2 billion bid by the Silverstein Group- made up of property developer Larry Silverstein and investors Lloyd Goldman and Joseph Cayre- was accepted.
A noteworthy milestone. It was the first time in the building's 31-year history that the complex had changed management, the first time it had been leased to a private entity.

According to the theory, the WTC wasn't exactly the prize catch that the developer had been lead to believe. on the other hand, the problem was not exactly a secret.
The Port Authority, according to some sources, considered the WTC a headache. The city had attempted on several occasions to get permits to demolish the Twin Towers but was turned down due the known asbestos problem.

The conspiracy theorists will tell you that
it was well-known the only reason the building was still standing until 9/11 was because it was too costly to disassemble the twin towers floor by floor since the Port Authority was prohibited legally from demolishing the buildings.
The owners of the towers were looking at a hefty bill ($200 million) for mandated "renovations and improvements, most of which related to removal and replacement of building materials declared to be health hazards in the years since the towers were built." 
We are talking primarily about asbestos. 
That figure for clean up would have reportedly represented an entire year's worth of revenue from the WTC.

There's more fodder for the conspiracy theorists. One of the Trump's top campaign staffers is an interesting man named Michael Glassner. As a 20-year-old college student from Kansas, Glassner got his start in politics by signing on to Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign.
Skip a decade and we find Glassner in a very different line of work.
Between May 1998 – July 2001, Glassner served as a senior advisor to Lewis Eisenberg, the then-Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Glassner's resume tells us that he "led an executive team producing earned media and lobbying strategies in support of the successful $3.21 billion dollar privatization of the World Trade Center complex." 
He left in July 2001, just months before the attacks. It was a fortuitous turn of events that he should have left when he did. Glassner worked out of the Port Authority’s World Trade Center office. 

(The rest of Glassner's not-too-honorable career- post 9/11- can be found in this blog post. Spoiler: It involves a $1.3 million FCC fine of Glassner's telecommunications (IDT) in Haiti, a probable violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and alleged kickbacks to former Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And then, there's also Sarah Palin. )

In January of 2002, less than five months after the attacks, the man Glassner worked for, Lewis Eisenberg, would go on to become the Chairman of Finance Committee for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. Today, Eisenberg, in addition to being a Republican Jewish Coalition board member, is the head of the Republican National Committee’s joint fundraising effort with the Donald Trump campaign.  Not a man that Trump would want to cross. 

Anyway, back to the theory.
Following the attacks, for  the Silverstein Group-the new owners- the prospects suddenly looked very different things. Amid the tragic events, there was a silver lining for Silverstein.  

After the attack, the WTC -along with the vexing problem of renovation- literally ceased to exist. In fact, because the insurance coverage on the property, fortunately, covered "acts of terrorism," things could hardly have been better. 

(In fairness, the terrorism clause in the insurance policy should not be so unexpected since the WTC had been the target of an attack before 911.)

There was, however, more for the conspiratorial-minded to mull over.
Silverstein filed TWO insurance claims for the maximum amount of the policy, based on the two, in Silverstein's view, separate attacks. The total potential payout is $7.1 billion, more than enough to build a fabulous new complex and leave a hefty profit for the Silverstein Group, including Larry Silverstein himself."
Those dual claims were argued in court and eventually, a settlement was reached in 2007, with insurers agreeing to pay out $4.55 billion. That must have been a real disappointment. 

According to this theory, the WTC was an inside job, not an act of terrorism but of insurance fraud. Such is the theory, believe it or not. (I have summarized it as best as I could but if you need more information, click here.)
It might be an interesting theory but, like so many conspiracy theories, it's pure speculation and that's not confirmation.

Still, it is odd that Trump hasn't mentioned it. Yet, I suppose, given the names of the people involved and their relationships, perhaps it's not all that surprising.

Still, the man who for years has suggested that Obama forged his birth certificate (including two birth announcements in the local newspaper in Augist 1961) in order to be eligible to run for president.
This was the very man who has repeatedly asserted, without any proof at all, that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” were cheering in Jersey City, New Jersey, as “the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” making it clear he was referring to the city’s Muslim residents.

Trump is a man who has rarely seen a conspiracy theory not worth probing and promoting.
This one is, apparently, off limits.

Not Removed, Not Replaced

Steering away from conspiracy theories, we can find that Trump has had plenty of other things to say about the collapse of the WTC attacks. He has suggested that the Twin Towers need not have fallen if only the world had listened to him.

It was the lack of asbestos, according to Trump, that caused the WTC to collapse. In his grammatically-challenged style, Trump wrote in a tweet in October 2012
"If we didn't remove [the] incredibly powerful fire-retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn't work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down."
It's an interesting comment. In the past, Trump used the phrases "Some have said.." For the sake of twitter, he has finally taken full responsibility for spreading that nonsense. Now he owns it.

Like many things Trump has said, there's a very tiny speck of truth around which Trump has molded a lie.

To see that lie more clearly, we have to go back to the time of the WTC construction.

The North Tower became a fixture of the New York skyline in 1970 and displace the Empire State Building as the tallest building on Earth. Two years later the South Tower was completed. The entire WTC complex was finished in 1977 and was made up of 7 buildings altogether.

According to one source, at that time, there was growing concern about the use of asbestos and the health risks. Initially, the Port Authority had planned to use over 5,000 tons of asbestos in the construction of the World Trade Center.  

However, because of health fears, WTC 1's steel structure was sprayed only up to the 40th floor with a ½ inch of asbestos coating. Contractors for the WTC were asked to switch to a non-asbestos spray. As a result, a non-asbestos substitute was used for the remainder of the North Tower and the entirety of the South Tower.
The Port Authority has suggested that some, though not all, of the asbestos coating that was initially applied, had been removed prior to 9/11. It has also been suggested that the elevator shafts - approximately 100 in each tower - also contained asbestos.
At least one law firm is investigating additional asbestos products that may have been used in the construction or operation of the World Trade Center.

It has been estimated that the WTC contained around 400 tons of asbestos fiber at the time of the attacks.
Much- if not all- of that, was  released "into the ambient air with the smoke plume, collapsing towers, and subsequent fires."

Contrary to what Trump implied, asbestos was never removed and it was never replaced.
Trump was and is surely aware of that. 

Trump: The Advocate for a Carcinogen

Trump's ignorance became a part of the Congressional record when Trump appeared before a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in 2005. A part of his testimony seems to have been something of an aggressive sales pitch, claiming "how easily and elegantly" he could renovate the United Nations building in New York.
"In New York City, we have a lot of asbestos buildings. And there's a whole debate about asbestos. A lot of people could say that if the World Trade Center had asbestos it wouldn't have burned down. It wouldn't have melted, okay? 
Experts can debate that idea, whether the asbestos could have prevented the steel supports from melting. There are too many factors to consider for anybody to make the claim that Trump made before the Senate.

In fact, he compared the cancer-causing material to other flame retardant construction products and said that asbestos was "like a heavyweight champion against a lightweight from high school."
And I can tell you that I've seen tests of asbestos, vs. the new material that's being used, and it's not even a contest."
In fact, it is beside the point. Contrary to Trump's idea, there was asbestos in the WTC and plenty of it. That's why the Port Authority was so interested in unloading the Twin Towers in the first place.

Had the 9/11 attacks never happened, the cost of refitting would have still been necessary. Because of the amount of asbestos in the WTC, a controlled demolition would also not have been an option.  

To claim that the WTC would not have come down is nothing more than a typical Trump distraction.  Asbestos was in the building, at least partially.
And when the unthinkable happened, the dust spread over an entire city. Had Trump had his way, there were would have been many more tons of asbestos in the WTC construction.

Trump's Great Wisdom

In his testimony before the Senate, Trump skipped over the dangers of asbestos. He mocked the Health and Safety oversight of the US government.
But in your great wisdom, you folks have said asbestos is a horrible material, so it has to be removed.
He went on to claim that asbestos could easily be removed and its removal was little more than an inconvenience.
Asbestos is constantly being gotten rid of, with tenants in possession. You sit there. They wrap it, they conceal it, they do it. They do it in many professional firms. They move the asbestos..I could name a hundred tenants where it's been done while they sit in their offices, literally working. Sometimes it's done over weekends.
Trump's ideas are amazingly and dangerously wrong. The truth, as Trump fully knows, is very different. Asbestos abatement contractors must, in fact, follow strict regulations when performing asbestos abatement to ensure that asbestos is not dispersed outside the work area. Respiratory protective equipment is mandatory for all workers. 

Plastic sheeting is generally used to seal off areas to prevent the fibers from contaminating the worksite. In addition, "negative air" machines are used with air filters to ensure asbestos is contained behind a "critical barrier" which Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) describes as  "physical barrier sufficient to prevent airborne asbestos in a work area from migrating to an adjacent area."
According to Trump, the process is more like the labor of a crew of house painters.
They take sections of offices and they do it, and the people move from that section to another section, and they're inconvenienced for a day and a half.
A lackadaisical attitude like the one Trump showed before the Senate committee is, to say the least, disconcerting.

The Mob Angle

Trump hailed the use of asbestos and came up with a wacky idea of why it was banned in the first place.

In his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, he alleged that the mafia was behind the movement to remove asbestos:
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. Great pressure was put on politicians, and as usual, the politicians relented. Millions of truckloads of this incredible fire-proofing material were taken to special "dump sites" and asbestos was replaced by materials that were supposedly safe but couldn't hold a candle to asbestos in limiting the ravages of fire.
He seemed to forget that the "great pressure" put on politicians came as a result of research that clearly showed that asbestos was safe only under extremely controlled situations. Actually, as one scientific paper notes "the knowledge that [asbestos] was a mortal health hazard dates back at least a century, and its carcinogenic properties have been appreciated for more than 50 years."

So, no, Donald, it was not an invention of the mobsters. Even though Trump was displeased, the politicians he looked down on were actually doing the right thing by the public.

As one source notes:
Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the asbestos often used in fireproofing will "readily release airborne fibers if disturbed"—and that there's "no 'safe' level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber."
According to more recent reports, every year, between 12,000 – 15,000 Americans per year die as a result of asbestos-related diseases, which includes the rare cancer mesothelioma (caused exclusively by asbestos).
Among the groups hit hardest by this death toll are middle-class workers in construction, firefighting, as well as veterans of the U.S. Navy.
The working man. The guy that thinks so much of Trump they are ready to vote for him. 

It's important to recall that exposure to asbestos doesn't immediately lead to cancer. The symptoms of these diseases generally do not appear for 20 or more years after initial exposure.

Remember the actor, Steve McQueen, for example. He died of metastatic mesothelioma as a result of exposed to a huge amount of asbestos. McQueen believed his exposure to asbestos started in the U.S. Marines Corps in the late ‘40s when he worked in a naval shipyard.  At that time, McQueen was in charge of was removing asbestos-filled insulation from the hold of a ship.
His exposure was further compounded, others have claimed, during his days racing motorcycles and cars –– when he wore the flame-retardant driver suits made with asbestos. In effect, McQueen's entire career was based on borrowed time, with the clock clicking down from the moment of his exposure.

In the legal world, asbestos litigation has become something of a booming industry. According to one study in 2012 (the same time that Trump was tweeting his claim that WTC would have survived but by the grace of asbestos), a tabulation of jury verdicts and settlements found that "the average award was $6.3 million in 2009, $17.6 million in 2010 and $10.5 million in 2011 -- amounts much greater than what lawyers say was the norm more than a decade earlier."
To put it another way, attorneys are making a fortune from Trump's lousy advice about asbestos.

Neither Safe Nor Acceptable

Despite all this information, Trump continues to claim to this day that asbestos is "100% safe." And he thinks it is a shame that it was banned. If it were up to Trump, we would still be using it.

However, the problem with his ideas became apparent when the Twin Towers collapsed that September morning. A layer of toxic dust and debris blanketed lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The unthinkable can happen and when it did on that Tuesday morning, the asbestos in the WTC- the material that Trump considered 100% safe- became something like a slow-motion non-radioactive dirty bomb.   

Some would claim that the authorities made the problem worse by falsely claiming that the dust posed no public safety threat.
The head of the EPA in the Bush administration Christine Todd Whitman announced only days after the attack.
"We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air-quality and drinking-water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances"
 She declared that 
Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York … that their air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink."
There is, it has to be repeated, no such thing as acceptable levels of exposure and therefore to claim that the public was never exposed to "excessive levels" is extremely misleading. 

According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) "all levels of asbestos exposure studied to date have demonstrated asbestos-related disease" and "there is no level of [asbestos] exposure below which clinical effects do not occur."

A report would later show that the Bush administration pressured the EPA and that "language used to describe excessive amounts of asbestos in the area was altered drastically to minimize the dangers it posed."

The EPA was not alone in falsely reassuring the American public. Only a couple of days after the attack, mayor Rudy Giuliani- a Trump supporter today- said
"The air is safe as far as we can tell, with respect to chemical and biological agents."
A month later, the mayor proclaimed that the air quality was "safe and acceptable."

In actuality, the air was neither safe nor acceptable. One press release from a law firm handling litigation stemming from toxic dust exposure points out: 
The air itself was also thick - some rescue workers compared it to "soup." Some experts have estimated that the attacks released a "toxic soup" of over 2,500 different potentially hazardous materials, particles, and [asbestos] fibers into the environment. These include mercury, dioxins, pulverized concrete, lead, and PCB's, to name only a few.
Let's review some of the agents on that list. Dioxin is a highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.
Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Polychlorinated biphenyl, otherwise known as PCB, are a probable human carcinogen. Studies of PCBs in humans have found increased rates of melanomas, liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, biliary tract cancer, gastrointestinal tract cancer, and brain cancer.

Remarks by Giuliani and others provided a false sense of security for many of the 4,000 first responders- who were provided no protective gear worked tirelessly searching through the wreckage. 

Firefighters worked for months to extinguish fires that burned through the Ground Zero site. Truck drivers, transporting the waste off-site to landfills and other disposal facilities were also exposed to the dust. 
But that's not all.

After the horrific attacks, New York City residents clearly deeply traumatized. Many were trying to decide whether to leave the city.
In order to halt a mass exodus, authorities encouraged the residents to get on with their lives and carry on as normal. Research over decades has demonstrated that that exposure to asbestos -- defined roughly as two weeks of constant contact, usually in the air -- is a primary cause of mesothelioma.

Thus, thousands of New Yorkers who might have otherwise left the area were unnecessarily exposed to health risks caused by the exposure. These people had made the fatal mistake of trusting their government to protect them and of listening to Donald Trump. 
Today, the residual effects of the lethal dust are still turning up. Physical and mental health problems experienced by 9/11 workers and volunteers include upper and lower respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, musculoskeletal disorders, mental health conditions, as well as various types of cancer.

In addition to cancers possibly related to exposure, doctors have detected a higher than the usual number of low-birth-weight babies since 9/11. Whether this is related to the dust is not yet clear.  
*   *   *
Donald Trump has over the years repeatedly claimed that asbestos is a safe building material. Tell that to the First Responders and the firefighters who are plagued with asbestos-related health problems. 
The attacks on the WTC demonstrated Trump's dangerous ignorance and his inability to admit when he is wrong- dead wrong. 

As one legal firm remarks, asbestos fibers that Trump has given a proud thumbs up are continuing to kill the courageous men and women- heroes- who saved lives and extinguished fires at the site of America’s worst terrorist attack. 

And to make matters worse, even though Trump likes to boast about being a proud New Yorker, he remained suspiciously silent when it came time to support the 2015 renewal of the James Zadroga Act which aimed at provided comprehensive federal healthcare to 9/11 first responders.
He was perhaps too busy campaigning to notice.