Europe to Enter Post-Asbestos Era?
Nothing ever happens quickly in the European Union (EU). With 27 member states, 23 official languages, 5 semi-official languages, a population of more than 500 million, 754 Members of the European Parliament and locations in Brussels and Strasbourg, change cannot and does not come overnight. The fact that it took more than ten years for a directive to be adopted banning the use of asbestos (1999) and another 5+ years for the ban to be phased-in is evidence of the slow pace of change.1
Despite the progress represented by the EU directive outlawing asbestos use, the fact that the regulations allowed derogations to persist was, critics said, unacceptable. Nevertheless under the ban directive, the use of chrysotile asbestos was permitted for existing electrolysis installations in chlorine production facilities. Deadlines for reviewing this exemption came and went and still no action was taken. By June 1, 2011,2 Member States were mandated to report the status quo related to the derogation in their countries to the Commission. This 97-page report is now available online: Exemptions to the Asbestos Restriction.3
On January 18, 2013 Daniel Calleja, the European Commission Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General, and Karl Falkenberg, the Environment Directorate-General, wrote to Geert Dancet, Executive Director of the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), to request that the Agency prepare documentation to prohibit the placing on the market and use of diaphragms containing chrysotile under entry 6 of Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (REACH). This 2-page letter concludes with the following paragraph:
According to Article 69(3) of REACH, within 12 months of the receipt of this request from the Commission and if the dossier demonstrates that action on an EU-wide basis is necessary, beyond any measures already in place, the Agency shall suggest restrictions on chrysotile for diaphragms, with a view to initiating the restrictions process.
The January 18th letter has been thoroughly studied by EU asbestos experts. In their view, the assertion of incorrect premises and the use of language which is overly generalized do not bode well. On the other hand, after such a long delay, perhaps the time has finally come for the EU to end the derogation so that the Community can truly begin a new post-asbestos era.
February 7, 2013
2 Chemicals: Restrictions Asbestos exemptions by Member States.
3 Exemptions to the Asbestos Restriction.