EU regional and local leaders supported the European Commission's proposals to revise a directive on protecting workers from the effects of asbestos but also stressed that the directive deals with asbestos in a very fragmented way. Regions and cities demand the broad spectrum of asbestos regulation to be strengthened by a European strategy for asbestos removal, which would ensure an integrated approach and systemic solutions in all Member States on inventory, monitoring, safe disposal, storage, education and training methods.
Asbestos is a highly dangerous, cancer-causing substance, accounting for 78% of occupational cancers diagnosed in the EU are asbestos-related. An estimated 4.1 to 7.3 million workers are currently exposed to harmful asbestos fibres, and the average time from exposure to asbestos to the appearance of the first symptoms is 30 years. More than 220 million buildings or structures were constructed before asbestos was banned (in the EU - 2005).
Focusing only on the protection of workers from the risks of asbestos exposure in the workplace is not enough. For this reason, in the opinion on Amending the Directive on Asbestos, adopted at the 16 March the plenary session, regions and cities insist on the vital role of information and education campaigns, health measures and changes in the management of stocks of asbestos.
During the plenary debate, the rapporteur, Hanna Zdanowska (PL/EPP), mayor of Łódź, said: "I am very pleased that the European Commission is striving to accelerate the rate of elimination of asbestos and to secure employees dealing with its removal. In order to better protect our citizens and workers, I call for increased cooperation at EU level and the need for new grant mechanisms and financial incentives for citizens interested in replacing asbestos roofing. Poland is a leader in developing solutions for asbestos removal. However, despite many actions, it is estimated that my region - the Łódź Voivodeship - needs 102 years to completely solve asbestos problem. The current pace of asbestos removal in the EU is far from sufficient and justifies the need to redefine the current EU asbestos policy."
Local and regional leaders also demand to improve the protection of workers by significantly lowering the maximum acceptable level of occupational exposure to asbestos foreseen by the directive, with a further reduction of the threshold to be introduced three years after its entry into force.
Jan Sipior (PL), Mayor of Szczucin, a town in Poland where the asbestos and cement plant ZWAC was active since 1959, shared with CoR members his experience in reducing the health risks for the town's residents: "Asbestos is a cruel, quiet killer present in the human environment, and in most cases affects those who are unaware of the dangers. The estimated risk of death by mesothelioma (cancer caused by asbestos) among those living in Szczucin is around 100 times greater than among the Polish population as a whole. The risks associated with asbestos can be overcome. The key is to educate the general public on how to safely deal with this material and what to do to consistently remove it from the human environment."
Local representatives underlined that the importance of speeding up the removal of asbestos by raising awareness and increasing protections for workers and residents (including local and regional government and health-care workers). At the same time, they pointed to the need for a specific health-care and treatment regime for those suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
The opinion calls for a better monitor asbestos removal and for local and regional authorities to be given direct access to European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds to carry out plans for the safe removal of asbestos. Additionally, the opinion argues that one of the key aspects for the realisation of an asbestos-free future is the establishment of a financial framework using ESI Funds to support building owners, thereby linking the safe removal of asbestos to other public policies and programmes (such as energy efficiency, better living conditions, social housing and disease prevention).
In a broader context, the opinion also relates to the Renovation Wave Strategy and the proposal for a revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. The proposals on the risks of asbestos exposure are part of the prevention pillar of Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, and will contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal, the Zero-Pollution Action Plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Although all forms of asbestos are banned in the EU since 2005, asbestos remains present in older buildings. It poses a health threat, particularly when materials containing asbestos are disturbed and fibres are released and inhaled, for instance during renovations.
Background material: The plenary agenda and opinions and amendments.
Webstreaming: On the website of the CoR.
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