The US Capitol partly closed recently due to fear of asbestos toxicity during a building repair project. The partial closure included the chambers where the U.S. House of Representatives usually meets. Congress stayed away while folks in hazmat suits checked things out. According to media reports, “An accident involving asbestos work forced a temporary closure of the House side of the Capitol and prompted House leaders to delay the day’s session for two hours.”
By mid-morning a handful of tourists were sitting in the visitors’ gallery, observing an otherwise empty chamber.
I find it ironic that our Congressional representatives are so terrified of asbestos toxicity that they won’t go anywhere near the stuff. Yet they are just fine with exposing the rest of us to it. The U.S. has repeatedly refused to ban asbestos despite attempts by the US Environmental Protection Agency to do so. As a direct consequence, a further 250,000+ tons of asbestos was used in the U.S. just between 1991 and 2010, according to data from the United States Geological Survey.
The Capitol asbestos scare occurred as the historic building undergoes a major overhaul, the Washington Post reported. Along with multimillion-dollar renovations to the iconic cast iron Capitol Dome, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), the office responsible for its management and maintenance, is having asbestos removed from other parts of the building.
Construction of the main section of the Capitol began in 1793 and was finished in 1826, the U.S. News report says. “As the country grew and more lawmakers joined Congress, a south wing for the current House chamber and a north wing for the Senate were built. Both were completed in 1868, along with a new, larger dome.”
Initial news reports said the asbestos incident occurred when workers were removing asbestos from the fourth floor of the Capitol. The East Grand Staircase, which runs from the first floor to the third floor inside the House side of the building, was blocked off and more than a dozen workers spent much of the day examining the area. Also closed was the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Room, a third-floor room near that staircase that was named for the late speaker and Massachusetts Democrat.
The extreme danger of asbestos toxicity is something I discuss often here. The bottom line is that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Congress seems too beholden to the asbestos lobby to protect the American public from asbestos. But they sure know how to vote with their feet when their own safety is threatened.