MEPs are calling for complete elimination of cancer-causing asbestos

Despite its Europe-wide ban almost 20 years ago, asbestos is still present in many buildings and is the leading cause of occupational cancer. [Logtnest / SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Parliament has called for the creation of a strategy to completely eliminate cancer-causing asbestos in a bid to strengthen workers’ protection and reduce exposure to this common chemical.

The recommendations by the parliament’s environment and public health (ENVI) committee come ahead of the European Commission’s update on the asbestos directive, planned for 2022, 12 years after its last revision.

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals made up of thin, microscopic fibres. Thanks to their heat and chemical resistance, asbestos was commonly used as a building material and can be found in a number of products, including roofing shingles and water supply lines.

But exposure to asbestos can lead to a number of serious health problems, including cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma.

The risk comes not only from inhaling fibres but also from ingesting water containing such fibres, which increases the risk of gastric and colorectal cancers.

Due to health risks, asbestos was banned at the European level in 2005, but it can still be found in many buildings and is the first cause of work-related cancers.

As of 2018, 125 million people worldwide have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

French MEP, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, shadow rapporteur for the Renew Europe group on this file, stressed that while the renovation wave of the European Green Pact, which aims to renovate 35 million inefficient buildings by 2030, gives an opportunity to remove asbestos, it also puts the construction workers in danger.

“A European strategy is needed to avoid inequalities in protection: every worker must be adequately protected, regardless of his or her place of work,” stressed Trillet-Lenoir, adding that social justice must be the guiding principle of the policy against asbestos.

The recommendations call on the Commission to set out a European strategy for the complete elimination of asbestos and urge all member states to adopt national action plans to implement that strategy.

“Removing asbestos now means avoiding passing on this burden to future generations and making a major investment in public health: the benefits are considerable, not only in terms of lives saved and pain avoided but also in terms of savings for social protection systems,” Trillet-Lenoir said.

Additionally, it is pointed out that the EU, together with international organisations and third countries, should work together to achieve a global ban on asbestos.

“Because of the interconnection of value chains, it is also in our interest to avoid any risk of asbestos products entering the single market,” the MEP said.

The importance of monitoring and detection of asbestos in private and public buildings, land, infrastructure, logistics, and piping is stressed in the recommendations together with the information campaigns for workers, employers, owners, tenants, and other citizens.

ENVI recommendations will feed into the ongoing discussions in the parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL).

The report is planned to be completed in September “with the aim of influencing the content of the legislative proposal by the European Commission” Trillet-Lenoir concluded.

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[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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