More than 60 countries have banned asbestos for its potentially lethal qualities, but Russian companies continue to quarry and produce the substance. Pushed to the outskirts of both American and global consumption, the Russian firms see a new opportunity to revive the once-popular material: President Donald Trump.
“Trump is on our side,” said Vladimir V. Kochelayev, who serves as chairman of the board of Uralasbest, one of the few asbestos manufacturers left in the entire world, The New York Times reports. He claimed to have heard reports that the Trump administration would ease regulations on asbestos use.
Even though the U.S. halted its quarrying of the substance 17 years ago, mines in Russia's Ural Mountains still sell asbestos on the global market. The nearby city is called Asbest, Russian for "asbestos," and almost all of its inhabitants depend on the industry of the substance that has been labeled as a serial killer by the World Health Organization.
The stubborn Russian company led by Kochelayev has poured resources into repackaging its product as "chrysotile"—the technical term for the specific kind of mineral that Uralasbest mines. Kochelayev insisted that chrysotile is actually safer than other forms of "asbestos" and not simply a rebranding strategy. Until the 1970s, asbestos, a generic name for different fibrous minerals, was used in insulation, roof tiling, and many other products and services worldwide.
“I cannot say it is totally safe,” Kochelayev said speaking about the new product, but “it can be used in controlled situations without danger.”