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25 May, 2024
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EU confronts asbestos-related deaths

Majority of work-related cancers linked to asbestos exposure



By Andros Karayiannis

A very serious issue that concerns members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) is the use and exposure of citizens to asbestos. The consequences of asbestos on public health are numerous, with the most serious being the development of cancer in individuals who are mainly unaware of the threats posed by the microscopic size of asbestos fibers.

Although the use of all forms of asbestos has been banned in the European Union since 2005, it continues to be present in buildings, roofs, and water supply networks, posing a risk to residents and workers involved in the challenging task of its removal or handling.

The CoR recently approved an opinion supporting the establishment of a common framework within the EU to facilitate the detection and safe removal of asbestos from buildings. It also recommends to the European Commission the implementation of solutions for proper inventory, monitoring, safe disposal, and storage of asbestos, as well as education and training for workers.

In the EU, over 220 million buildings, as stated in the CoR opinion, were constructed before 2005 and likely still contain asbestos. Seventy-eight percent of occupational cancers in the EU are related to asbestos, such as lung cancer. It is also estimated that between 4.1 and 7.3 million workers are daily exposed to asbestos.

While the EU promotes ecological transition through building renovations to make them more environmentally friendly, the exposure of workers in the construction sector to asbestos is increasing. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure high health and environmental standards and measures to protect both workers and residents from hazardous substances like asbestos.

The process of asbestos removal from buildings is not satisfactory and varies from one EU member state to another. Special attention should be given to the safe removal of asbestos using protective clothing and the training and information of those involved.

Despite the diligent efforts made by both local authorities and citizens themselves to remove hazardous asbestos materials, many asbestos-containing materials can only be detected during demolition or renovation stages. This highlights the fact that many people are unknowingly exposed to asbestos for years, putting their health at risk. The average time from exposure to carcinogenic substances until the onset of the first cancer symptoms is estimated to be 30 years.

Public health cannot be compromised, especially when it comes to the harmful substances to which citizens and workers are exposed. Unfortunately, 78% of recognized occupational cancers in the EU are related to asbestos, as the economic crisis prevents many residents from renovating their homes or replacing asbestos-containing roofs. As a result, they continue to live with asbestos above their heads.

The EU must therefore ensure the financing of local authorities through structural and investment funds for the safe removal of asbestos and the replacement of asbestos pipes in the water supply network.

Asbestos poses a threat to public health, especially when asbestos materials are disturbed, releasing harmful fibers that can be inhaled. A statement by a Polish mayor to the CoR highlights this: "Asbestos is a tough, silent killer that exists in the human environment and mostly affects those who are unaware of the dangers."

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  asbestos  |  cancer  |  health  |  death

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