Saturday, November 21, 2009

Asbestos USA

"For heaven rest us! I'm not asbestos"

... wrote Dorothy Fields in 1935 (the song was "I won't dance"). Today's listeners no doubt interpret the line to mean, "I'm not unfeeling." In fact, the original meaning, since asbestos was originally used as a flame-retardant construction material, was probably closer to "I won't put out the flame."

In New Orleans last week, there was quite a lot of talk about asbestos, which was not only removed from a lot of the buildings that were gutted over the past four years (roughly 3/4 of the city) -- to my dismay, it also continues to be used in rebuilding. It turns out that asbestos is not even illegal in the US, but at least it was the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans back in 1991 that overturned a 1989 law to phase out the use of asbestos. It seems crudely fair somehow that New Orleans would suffer so much from one of its courts' rulings...

Needless to say, asbestos is completely banned in the EU and Switzerland. The German Wikipedia entry for Asbest says, "Asbestos is primarily a disposal problem today" (Asbest stellt heute primär ein Entsorgungsproblem dar.) And this difference in the handling of dangerous substances does not stop with asbestos: the EU has REACH legislation, which forces companies to prove that the chemicals they use are not harmful, whereas US citizens have to prove that chemicals used by companies are dangerous -- the burden of proof is the opposite.

All of which really makes me feel sorry for all of those wonderful people in the United States, whose government puts private profits ahead of public well-being.

1 comment:

  1. This remembers me of having seen a documentation on Canadian TV: