Banned at EU level since 2005 but still present and dangerous for millions of people. Asbestos is still responsible for 78% of cancers developed in the workplace and recognized as such in the Member States. The substance is known to develop mesothelioma and lung cancer with an average delay of thirty years between exposure and the first signs of the disease. This explains the European Commission’s intervention to further lower exposure levels.
In 2019 alone, 70,000 people died from having come into contact with asbestos in previous years. Furthermore, the Commission estimates that there are still 4.1 to 7.3 million workers exposed to asbestos in the EU, but the numbers could increase with the recent building renovation incentives introduced at both European and national levels. Suffice it to say that over 220 million buildings in the EU were built before the total ban on the use of asbestos in construction, so it is likely that many houses still contain the carcinogen.
These data explain the Commission’s intervention to reduce the dangerousness of asbestos in the EU with the proposal to reduce the maximum limits of exposure to asbestos in the workplace from the current maximum threshold of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f / cm³) to 0.01 f / cm³. Reducing by ten times the maximum allowed by the law on the exposure of workers to carcinogenic fiber is just one of the proposals that aim, according to the EU executive, to “free” Europe from the carcinogenic substance.
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In addition to the revision of the exposure limits, the Commission announced the update of the guidelines to support Member States, employers and employees in the implementation of the new rules and the launch of an awareness campaign on the safe removal of asbestos . The package also contains the legislative proposal on screening in all EU countries aimed at creating a register of asbestos in buildings. Member States will therefore be called upon to develop national strategies for the removal of the carcinogenic fiber. Palazzo Berlaymont also proposed a common public health approach to better and uniformly support European victims of asbestos-related diseases. A final group of proposals aims to ensure safe disposal of asbestos which does not lead to further pollution and which makes use of new treatment technologies.