European Commission Acts to Better Protect People from Asbestos and Ensure an Asbestos-Free Future

Asbestos is a highly dangerous, cancer-causing substance that is still present in many of our buildings and is responsible for many avoidable deaths in the EU. The Commission presents a comprehensive approach to better protect people and the environment from asbestos and ensure an asbestos-free future.

Although all forms of asbestos are banned in the EU since 2005, asbestos remains present in older buildings. It poses a health threat, particularly when materials containing asbestos are disturbed and fibres are released and inhaled, for instance during renovations.

As much as 78% of occupational cancers recognised in the Member States are related to asbestos. When inhaled, airborne asbestos fibres can lead, for example, to mesothelioma and lung cancer, with an average lag of 30 years between exposure and the first signs of disease.

Therefore, addressing the health risks of exposure to asbestos is essential to protect people’s health and the environment, while ensuring decent living and working conditions. This is even more relevant in the context of the green transition and our EU ambition to increase the renovation rate of buildings. Renovations will improve the health and living conditions for residents, and reduce their energy bills. However, they will also increase the risks of exposure to asbestos, in particular for construction workers.

The actions put forward are part of the prevention pillar of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and will contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal, the Zero-Pollution Action Plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Protecting workers from exposure to asbestos

Workers are at greatest risk of being exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. To improve their protection, the Commission presents a proposal to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive. This includes a reduction in the exposure limit of asbestos at work to 10 times lower than the current value (from 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre (f/cm3) to 0.01 f/cm3), based on the latest scientific and technological developments.

Together with awareness-raising and other improvements in health prevention and treatment, this proposal will bring us closer to our EU aim of beating cancer. It also creates a level playing field for businesses operating across the EU, while decreasing health care costs related to medical treatment.

Next steps

The Commission calls upon all EU institutions, Member States, social partners and other stakeholders to accelerate action to achieve an asbestos-free EU for current and future generations. The Commission’s proposal to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive will be discussed by the European Parliament and Member States, with the Commission calling for a swift approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law.

Read the full version here