Health hazard

Asbestos is a serious health hazard and the EU and member states must make its banning und removal from all locations a priority, warns Sabine Wils

The EP will soon deliver an initiative report concerning the harmful consequences of the workers and the citizens‘ exposure and the measures to be undertaken to protect the concerned people and to ban asbestos by 2023.

The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) provided an opinion stressing the need to recognize as a health hazard all type of asbestosis such as lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma and all different types of cancer due both to the inhalation of airborne fibres and to the ingestion of water containing such fibres coming from asbestos pipes.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) between 20 000 and 30 000 cases of asbestos-related disease are recorded every year in the European Union, alone more than 300,000 citizens are expected to die from mesothelioma by 2030 in the EU.

In this context, three problems have been considered as priorities by the ENVI committee.

First, the urgency to achieve the registration of all cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma at the EU-level through systematic data collection, including both occupational and non-occupational related diseases. Many of the exposed victims were involved as living close to the polluted sites and concerned production plants even without being relatives to concerned workers. The sample of the verdict delivered on February 13, 2012 in Turin where the Eternit Company was indicted as responsible for about 3,000 asbestos related deaths, witnesses the deadly consequences of asbestos on the whole civil concerned population. Such verdict ordered to pay damages to the victims, their relatives and civil society associations.

Secondly, as asbestos has been used in public and private buildings, trains, ships, bunkers, tunnels and water supply systems, mapping the existing sites where asbestos is still inside is urgent. Otherwise the „memory“ on the occurrence of astbestos will be lost. This represents a delayed bomb both for the remediation task forces and for users and inhabitants living there. If the professional workers once involved in these buildings are arriving at the end of their life, who will remember the exact location of asbestos to be removed?

The third and essential priority to be achieved is ensuring equal and appropriate medical treatment to all asbestos victims regardless of the source of their exposure or their former or existing employment status by means of a special European Fund supported by the Member States and the Commission to face the peak of casualties and deaths that is expected according to WHO in the next years. Until now only the voluntary network of associations, of representatives of civil society, of trade unions, and relatives of victims backed the victims in judicial trials and in supporting all social and medical consequences of their illness. Their role has been fully recognized even by this Parliament in a recent hearing: now all Member States and the European Commission have to endorse by adequate financial means this urgency, improve the national action plan to ban asbestos and ensure all remediation measures in the contaminated sites.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that there is not a safe threshold level to asbestos exposure: the pragmatic way to lower the existing threshold for worker exposure to asbestos fibre set in directive 2009/148 is increasing immediately effective provisions to safeguard workers‘ health reducing time of exposure when involved in remediation measures.