EU: Children, Teachers, Others at Increased Risk from Asbestos in Buildings

Published July 29, 2015

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), a consultative body of the European Union, has identified children and teachers in schools, do-it-yourself (DIY) enthusiasts, and maintenance workers as new groups that are increasingly at risk from asbestos in buildings across Europe. An EESC representative stated that the committee’s concern extends beyond traditionally exposed factory workers to include nearly the entire European community.

Asbestos is still found in many places in Europe, including ships, trains, machinery, tunnels, and in pipes in public and private water distribution networks. According to EESC, asbestos removal programs for the millions of tons of asbestos still present in buildings could cost larger EU member states up to 10 to 15 billion Euros per country. In the U.K. alone, more than 80 percent of schools still contain asbestos, the committee says.

At a joint conference held in June by EESC and the Committee of the Regions, “Freeing Europe Safely from Asbestos,” Europe’s top experts on asbestos discussed soon-to-be-published figures that place the total number of estimated asbestos-related deaths in Europe at 47,000 per year, which is double the number of deaths related to road accidents.

“Member states and the European institutions need to take action now to head off this emerging public health crisis,” said EESC member Enrico Gibellieri. “National action plans need to be implemented and the European Commission should prioritize its response to this major risk to public health across all policy areas.”

EESC urges the European Commission and member states to establish registers of buildings containing asbestos and to develop action plans for safe asbestos removal. The committee encourages the European Commission to link safe asbestos removal with its program on energy efficiency renovation of buildings.

For more information, see EESC’s press release.