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Asbestos - Problem still unsolved


08 Dec 2011


Health & Consumers
Climate & Environment

On Thursday 8th December 2011, ALDE MEPs Giommaria Uggias (Italia dei Valori-Lista Di Pietro, IT)  and Riikka Manner (Suomen Keskusta, FIN) organised a seminar in the European Parliament on asbestos in the context of persistent serious concerns on health effects.

Opening the seminar, MEP Giommaria Uggias, declared :

"Asbestos is a problem which still concerns all European citizens and which represents one of the biggest ecological bombs in Europe. We aim to bring public attention back to this topic, often forgotten by Member States, but that still exists and results in victims".

Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with high tensile strength and resistance to heat. Asbestos is a particularly dangerous agent used commonly in buildings (offices, factories, houses, schools or hospitals) and wide range of construction materials, including cement products, textiles, coatings and friction products. Millions of cubic meters of materials containing asbestos are still in place in existing public buildings.

The inhalation of all forms of asbestos are classified as class 1 carcinogens that can cause serious diseases including cancer and other non-cancer diseases and symptoms. Particularly at risk are building contractors involved in activities where they may be exposed to dust arising from asbestos or materials containing asbestos at work (mainly demolition, maintenance and removal).

The time between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of disease can be as much as 30 years. Latest figures presented by EU-OSHA (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work) shows an increase in cancer diseases associated with occupational exposure to asbestos.

The panelists also appealed for European legislation on asbestos to be correctly applied by Member States' national laws, by setting up an action to safety and health management, clear responsibilities, risk assessment, license, monitoring and measuring contamination and medical surveillance. By law, employers must protect their workers from being harmed by dangerous substances in the workplace. 

MEP Riikka Manner underlined: "Asbestos was moved off the political agenda after the hazard had been recognized and glaring threats to health were brought under control by legislation. However rules vary. In Finland, legislation stipulates that asbestos work may only be done by authorised companies. There are also discussions on new regulations regarding an asbestos survey and special care how to reduce the unregulated asbestos mapping business. It is therefore necessary to define criteria for companies which are doing asbestos mapping work.

"Legislative reform on its own is not enough. If the resources and means of occupational safety and health monitoring are insufficient, a new law will not reduce asbestos-related deaths and illnesses", she added.

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