The Human Cost of Electricity in Germany
Despite having introduced a national ban on the major types of asbestos in 1993, Germany continues to experience the fall-out from decades of asbestos use. In August, 2001, the German magazine Der Spiegel published a controversial article entitled: Deadly Dust. The paper discussed current developments at RWE AG, one of Germany’s biggest utility companies, and questioned the company’s motives for implementing medical screening procedures for asbestos illnesses: "Why is the RWE chief Dietmar Kuhnt only now reacting, a good 10 years after asbestos was banned because of its cancer producing effect, with such extensive measures?" Six and a half thousand former RWE workers and seven and a half thousand current workers have been offered medical advise by the company. Current workers will be medically examined at the company’s expense; the costs of screening retired workers will be covered by trade federations.
Within days of the article being published, RWE admitted that since the 1980s, 119 cases of asbestos-related occupational diseases, 85 of which proved fatal, had occurred amongst former workers. A company spokesperson said: "These figures show that the decision to continue occupational health asbestos prevention through a widespread programme of advice and examinations was right." Between 1982-2001, 12 RWE workers from the Niederaussen power plant died from asbestos cancers. Der Spiegel asked: "Are there more than the 12 known deaths at other RWE power plants?" On the same day as Reuters covered the RWE story, another German newspaper, Die Welt, reported that E.ON Energie AG has recently polled 20,000 employees about asbestos exposures; this exercise is part of a programme which has been in place since the mid-1980s. Although, it has not been possible to quantify German corporate asbestos liabilities, market analysts are worried.
September 8, 2001