Europe Bans Asbestos! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Years of patience, politicking, negotiations, committee meetings and working parties finally paid off with the adoption on July 26, 1999 of a written procedure which signalled the end to asbestos use throughout all Member States of the European Union (EU). This document updated Annex 1 of Directive 76/769/EEC on dangerous substances and preparations. From January 1, 2005, the introduction of new applications of asbestos cement materials, friction products, seals and gaskets will be prohibited. The restrictions will apply to chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite having previously been banned. The directive stated: "no threshold level of exposure has yet been identified below which chrysotile asbestos does not pose carcinogenic risks." Highlighting the risks from intermittent exposure, it maintained: "an effective way of protecting human health is to prohibit the use of chrysotile asbestos fibres and products containing them." The removal of asbestos in situ was not required. News of the ban was met with threats of further action from at least one Canadian diplomat who told Reuters: "We're very disappointed that the EU didn't wait to see the outcome of the ongoing case in the WTO (World Trade Organisation), as this may have a major bearing on the whole question of the ban."

Under the principle of subsidiarity, Member States are free to implement restrictions before 2005. Unilateral bans are already in place in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Bill Jordan, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, expressed the opinion of many when he said: "The EU's action will encourage unions in many other countries to press for similar measures to phase out the use of white asbestos." The domino effect has long been feared by pro-industry forces, with good reason it seems. No sooner was the ink dry on the EU's paperwork, then the Brazilian Environment Minister announced his government's commitment to a similar ban. An article in the July 29, 1999 issue of the newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo discussed the new policy and its financial implications; Brazil produces 200,000 tons of chrysotile annually of which 30% is exported. Factory inspector and anti-asbestos exponent Fernanda Giannasi was jubilant at the news saying: "For decades Brazilian workers have been dying from asbestos diseases. Finally, our government has woken up to the reality of their situation. Although these plans will meet with heavy resistance, I am optimistic that we will achieve the goal -- an asbestos free Brazil."

May 5, 2000



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