Photo credits: BartCo

On 28 September 2022, the European Commission published a proposal to revise the Asbestos Directive, lowering the occupational exposure limit value (OELV) from 100,000 to 10,000 fibres/m³. Tony Musu, the ETUI expert following the asbestos dossier, found the proposal disappointing: "The proposed reduction is insufficient to effectively protect the health of exposed workers.

Following the ordinary legislative procedure, the European Parliament and the Member States must now take a position on the European Commission's proposal and agree on the final text of the revised directive.

Against this backdrop, the European Parliament's Employment Committee adopted Véronique Trillet-Lenoir's report on the protection of workers from exposure to asbestos on 26 April 2023 by an overwhelming majority (>84% of votes). The measures include an initial lowering of the VLEP to 10,000 fibres/m³, followed by a second lowering to 1,000 fibres/m³ at the end of a 4-year transition period. This transitional period is necessary to enable Member States to equip themselves with electron microscopes capable of counting and identifying asbestos fibres at this concentration level. The report also provides for a series of complementary measures, ranging from compulsory asbestos diagnosis before work is carried out to better assess the risks, decontamination procedures to avoid secondary exposure, and provisions to avoid exposure of workers on building sites as far as possible.

This text constitutes the negotiating mandate of the MEP who is now responsible, on behalf of the European Parliament, for reaching an agreement with the EU Council of Ministers. "I am proud of the work done with the negotiating team and of the strong mandate given to me for the negotiations with the ministers. This text confirms the European Parliament's ambition in the fight against cancer", declared the Parliament's rapporteur, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir.

Negotiations on the revision of the Asbestos Directive should be concluded before the end of the Swedish Presidency of the Council on 30 June. If not, they will continue under the Spanish Presidency in the second half of 2023.

Asbestos is a family of mineral fibres that occur naturally in certain rocks. Dubbed the "mineral of the twentieth century", this material was widely used throughout the world. Inexpensive and non-flammable, it resists pressure, friction, humidity and chemical agents. Asbestos found its main outlets in the construction and building industries, particularly with asbestos cement. It is still found today in corrugated sheets, roofing, gutters, drains and heating pipes.

What makes asbestos dangerous is its fibrous nature and the minute size of its fibres. When inhaled, they penetrate very deeply into the lungs and can cause cancer of the lung, ovaries and larynx. These cancers often develop decades after exposure. Asbestos is also responsible for asbestosis, an irreversible and incurable disease causing severe respiratory difficulties and leading to death in the relatively short term.

Despite the total ban on the use of asbestos in the EU in 2005, lung cancer and mesothelioma caused by asbestos continue to kill almost 90,000 people every year in Europe. It is estimated that mortality will continue to rise in the coming years due to the very long latency period between exposure and the onset of asbestos-related diseases.

To find out more: HesaMag#27 (June 2023).