Ban Asbestos Dialogue in The Balkans 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The use of asbestos remains legal in non-European Union (EU) countries in the Balkan Peninsula with the exception of Croatia.1 As many of these countries aspire to join the EU, adopting a national asbestos ban is seen as a precursor to membership. The KAPAZ Project is a collaboration of West Balkan countries and the European Union which is designed to address national asbestos legacies, raise awareness of the asbestos hazard and build capacity amongst professionals and members of the public with the ultimate aim of banning asbestos. The 18-month initiative, which began at the end of December 2009 and is due to end on June 28, 2011, has spearheaded research and discussions in Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, mounted a regional meeting, generated public awareness literature and broadcast material2 and established a web presence.3

As elsewhere in Europe, asbestos was widely used in the West Balkans; its primary use was in building materials especially roofing and floor tiles, insulation and asbestos-cement products. The popularity of these products in these countries continued well into the 1990s. Unfortunately, national infrastructures throughout the region are in poor condition; the deterioration of the asbestos-containing products within them means that hazardous fibers can become airborne. Little or no attempt has been made in the West Balkans to minimize the dangers posed to workmen or members of the public created by this situation.

Despite a strong civil sector active regionally on environmental and health issues, there are no groups campaigning on asbestos. The aim of the KAPAZ Project is:

“to create partnership and strengthen capacity of Civil Society Organizations that will increase public awareness and knowledge about hazardous influence of asbestos on humans' health in West Balkan Countries and will initiate activities for implementation of EU Asbestos Directive in these countries.”

Social partners in this project include academic institutions, non-governmental and non-profit organizations in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. A three-day conference on asbestos held in Ohrid, Macedonia in June 2010 provided the opportunity for project participants to engage in face to face discussions and planning sessions. As a result of the interactions which took place, the delegates concluded that:

  • ignorance about the asbestos hazard in the West Balkans was widespread;
  • banning asbestos, which is a prequisite for joining the EU, is a matter of high priority;
  • as the production and use of asbestos is now virtually nil in the West Balkans, banning it would have no appreciable effect on the region's economic prospects;
  • the role of civil society in raising public awareness of the asbestos hazard and pressing for legislation to protect society from asbestos is crucial;
  • issues arising from the removal and disposal of asbestos waste must be addressed.

Professor Igor Nedlekovski from the University “St Kliment Ohridski” in Bitola, Macedonia has been involved with the KAPAZ project since the beginning. Speaking about the opportunities offered by this collaboration he said:

“Although asbestos is little used in Macedonia nowadays, it was a key component of many popular building products for many decades. As a result of this, there is a very real problem caused by the hidden contents of buildings which are deteriorating. A plumber asked to fix a leaky pipe or an electrician asked to put in new cables for computers has no idea what he is interfering with when he sets to work. It is right that the governments in the West Balkans take action similar to that of EU Governments. We welcome the chance to collaborate with technical and scientific experts.”


1 Asbestos was banned by legislation for national consumption in Croatia but it is believed the processing of asbestos remains legal for goods destined for export; we have been unable to verify the current status.

2 A 28-minute documentary in Macedonian explains what asbestos is, where it has been used and the ongoing risk it poses to people in the Balkans.
Also see:

3 Website:



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