|Vol.7, No.30, 26.7.01, p9
SOCIAL affairs chief Anna Diamantopoulou has proposed tightening rules on the handling of asbestos, in a bid to save lives while the EU waits for a ban on the killer material to come into effect.
She wants to vastly decrease the amount of asbestos in the air to which workers can legally be exposed and lengthen, to four decades, the period for which employers are obliged to keep records on staff who have been exposed to the substance. The rules are aimed at reducing the risk to workers who make asbestos and construction workers who have to remove it during the demolition of old buildings. Member states agreed to a total ban on asbestos production in 1999, but it is not due to come into effect until 2005. Until then it is still permitted to make one form, the comparatively less harmful 'white' or 'Chrysolite' asbestos. Around 2,500 EU workers, mostly in Spain but also in Portugal and Greece, still make white asbestos for use in cement. However, Diamantopoulou has insisted that her plans will not jeopardise their jobs.
Even after production has closed down for good, asbestos of all types will continue to pose a serious health danger for decades to come. Construction workers demolishing or renovating buildings which contain it are particularly at risk. Between 80,000 and 100,000 workers are thought to be employed by civil engineering and construction firms which are involved in this work. Asbestos is a particularly sensitive issue for the European Commission. Its former Brussels home, the Berlaymont, was evacuated in 1991 after it was found to be riddled with the material. The Commission is still being pursued by former employees who say that their health has been destroyed as a result of working in the building.
Social affairs chief Anna Diamantopoulou has proposed tightening rules on the handling of asbestos, in a bid to save lives while the EU waits for a ban on the killer material to come into effect.
|Business and Industry