The manufacture, marketing and use of asbestos have been banned in Europe since the end of 2004*. But EU law allowed one exception for imported diaphragms incorporating chrysotile asbestos fibres for existing electrolysis cells. This highly specific let-out was included so that a German chlorine production plant and a Swedish hydrogen production plant could continue operating "until they reach the end of their service life, or until suitable asbestos-free substitutes become available, whichever is the sooner".
Ten years on, under pressure from the multinational Dow Chemicals, the European Commission and the body in charge of REACH implementation, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), are thinking of extending the let-out up to 2025 or after. Furthermore, documents available on the ECHA website indicate that this derogation introduced in Annex XVII of REACH would be extended to allow not only diaphragms containing asbestos fibres, but also the asbestos fibres needed to maintain them to be imported into Europe. If these proposals go through, tonnes of asbestos could be legally imported into Europe each year.
Asbestos victim support groups are taking action. In a recent letter to the European Commission, they protest that ECHA’s proposed changes to the existing derogation are flatly at odds with the EU’s demands for a worldwide ban on asbestos. They also argue that, in pure law, it flies in the face of European Court of Justice rulings that the derogations laid down in REACH’s Annex XVII should be interpreted very narrowly. They also point out that asbestos-free electrolysis methods of chlorine manufacture are available now, so there is no good reason for extending this production method.
Both the Commission and ECHA are defending their decision by claiming that the risks to workers in European firms are fully controlled.
ECHA is currently running a public consultation on the proposed amendments to Annex XVII of REACH. All interested parties are invited to submit their comments preferably before 29 May 2014 and no later than 19 September 2014.
* Directive 1999/77/EC of 26 July 1999 relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations.
The following literature contains regulations or statements from governmental or other official institutions as well as articles concerning the current discussion about the influence of the asbestos industry on the awareness of the hazards resulting from the exposure to asbestos.
Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca
- Ruff K. "Russian asbestos companies paid for scientific articles that supports asbestos use." www.rightoncanada.ca
- Egilman DS, Bird T, Lee C. “MetLife and its corporate allies: dust diseases and the manipulation of science.” Int J Occup Env Health, Volume 19, Number 4, October 2013 , pp. 287-303(17)
- Directive 2009/148/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work
- Council Directive 92/57/EEC of 24 June 1992 on the implementation of minimum safety and health requirements at temporary or mobile constructions sites
- Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work
- The Brussels Office Law Reform Update Series: EU Legislation on Employment, May 2010
- European Parliament resolution of 7 May 2009 on draft Commission regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), as regards Annex XVII
- Committee of Senior Labour Inspectors (SLIC): ASBESTOS IS DEADLY SERIOUS! PREVENT EXPOSURE!
- Dresden Declaration on the Protection of Workers against Asbestos
- ILO Resolution concerning asbestos, 2006
- ILO C162 - Asbestos Convention, 1986
- World Health Organization: Elimination of asbestos-related diseases
- World Health Organization: Information about asbestos
- WHO: ACTION IS NEEDED ON CHEMICALS OF MAJOR PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN
- WHO Workshop on Mechanisms of Fibre Carcinogenesis and Assessment of Chrysotile Asbestos Substitutes 8-12 November 2005, Lyon, France
- IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans
- ICOH Statement: Global Asbestos Ban and the Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases
- Position Statement on Asbestos from the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE), June 4, 2012
- 90/326/EEC: Commission Recommendation of 22 May 1990 to the Member States concerning the adoption of a European schedule of occupational diseases
- Official Journal of the European Union: L 238, Volume 46, 25 September 2003
- Information notices on occupational diseases: a guide to diagnosis
- EUROGIP: Asbestos-related occupational diseases in Europe: a survey in 13 countries
- EUROGIP: Cost and funding of occupational diseases in Europe
Hearing on asbestos related occupational health threats and prospects for abolishing all existing asbestos. Committee on employment and social affairs of the European parliament, September 18th 2012, 17:00 - 18:30