Landmark Report on Europe's Asbestos Crisis
European partners have published results of an EU-funded research project which lifts the lid on a situation long ignored the human and environmental effects of asbestos consumption in new EU Member States and candidate countries. The focus of the report, entitled Asbestos-related occupational diseases in Central and East European Countries, is the long-lasting effects of asbestos use in: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey and Cyprus. In order to facilitate the dissemination of the report's findings, the 60-page text, which is available in English, is accompanied by 16-page summaries in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Danish, Latvian, Czech, Croatian, Bulgarian, Turkish and Serbian.1
Topics covered in the new publication include the evolution of national regulations concerning the recognition and compensation of asbestos-related diseases, health measures for at-risk workers and background information on the uses, properties and hazards posed by asbestos. Collaborative exchanges which took place in 2012 and 2013 with dozens of national authorities and experts during the investigations progressed the social dialogue on asbestos in target countries and furthered ties between asbestos activists in trade unions and victims' organizations and civil servants, academics and other professionals. Despite the fact that in some of the countries surveyed, information was either unavailable or inaccessible, the publication of this report marks a milestone in Europe's asbestos discourse; by highlighting industrial practices, economic activities and the consequences of human exposure to asbestos in countries where, as recently as 2010, the production and use of asbestos remained legal, the research findings counterbalance industry propaganda, which, even now, maintains that asbestos can be used safely.
This publication was part of a long-term collaboration on asbestos by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and the European Trade Union Confederation in consultation with stakeholders including representatives of international labor and victims' associations. Under the EFBWW's broadly-based European Asbestos Campaign, Parliamentary events have been organized, international conferences have been held and resources have been developed to inform at-risk workers and employers. These include:
The new report, which was compiled by the German research center Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE, is more than an academic treatise. Its findings have led to calls by the EFBWW's General Secretary Sam Hägglund and MEP Stephen Hughes for Europe-wide action. In many countries in the European Union, Hughes told journalists the majority of asbestos-related diseases remain unacknowledged, uncompensated and untreated.
From left: Lars Vedsmand, BAT-Kartellet DK, MEP S. Hughes and MEP A. Cercas at 2011 Asbestos - Still a Killer Conference in European Parliament, Brussels.
Within the region, there is a striking diversity in the designation of signature asbestos-related diseases as prescribed industrial diseases with the Czech Republic and Slovakia having recognized asbestosis in 1947 while Estonia and Cyprus waited until 2005 and 2007, respectively to do so.9 Measures for collecting data on the incidence of asbestos-related diseases also vary considerably from country to country: in Estonia, there is no system for recording such data while in Poland this information is available free of charge from the website of the Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine. While no cases of asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer have ever been recorded in Bulgaria or Turkey, in the period 1976-2011, Poland recognized 2,863 cases of asbestosis and 297 cases of mesothelioma; between 1998 and 2013 Slovenia recognized 448 cases of asbestosis and 128 cases of mesothelioma. One of the few areas of consistency in the region was under-reporting of asbestos-related and other occupational diseases.
Recommendations made by the authors include:
Speaking on behalf of the EFBWW, trade unionist Sam Hägglund lamented the high human cost of exposure to asbestos and called on the European Parliament to take immediate steps to eliminate all asbestos-containing material in Europe. Reiterating his sentiments, Laurie Kazan-Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, an EFBWW partner in the asbestos project, said:
The authors of Asbestos-related occupational disease in Central and East European Countries have done an excellent job under difficult circumstances. Managing so many languages and explaining complex bureaucratic procedures was never going to be easy; it is gratifying therefore to report that the end result was worth the effort. The new report showcases the deadly legacies in countries flooded by Russian exports of chrysotile asbestos. The Russian asbestos industry, denied its markets in Europe, is now targeting consumers in India, the Philippines, Indonesia and other Asian countries. At the same time as we act to protect our fellow Europeans, we must support the efforts of colleagues leading the campaign to ban asbestos in Asia and elsewhere.
December 10, 2013
1 All of these documents can be accessed on this website from the link: http://ibasecretariat.org/efbww_report_2013_toc.htm
2 EFBWW Asbestos Material for Trade Unions.
http://www.efbww.org/default.asp?Issue=Asbestos Documents and Posters&Language=EN
3 Kazan-Allen L. Asbestos Still a Killer. July 6, 2011
Asbestos Still a Killer.
http://www.efbww.org/default.asp?Issue=Asbestos Still a killer&Language=EN
4Kazan-Allen L. Europe's Asbestos Catastrophe. November 9, 2012.
5 Committee on Employment and Social Affairs Hearing. September 18, 2012.
6 European Parliament demands the eradication of asbestos contamination. March 14, 2013.
Also see: European Parliament resolution of 14 March 2013 on asbestos related occupational health threats and prospects for abolishing all existing asbestos (2012/2065(INI).
7 Information modules for the safer handling of asbestos; versions are available in: English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish and Spanish:
8 In 2006 Eurogip published Asbestos-related occupational diseases in Europe. Recognition, Statistics, Specific Systems which examined the situation in 13 countries in Western Europe.
9 Although mesothelioma is recognized by each of the countries surveyed, judging by the situation in Turkey where even people killed by accidents at work struggle to receive recognition or compensation it remains unclear whether this recognition necessarily brings benefits to the injured.