Under the Green Deal, some 35 million buildings in Europe will be renovated or demolished by 2030.
A necessary renovation, according to Claes-Mikael Stahl, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), but which will lead to an increase in the number of workers exposed to asbestos, a component widely used in the construction sector and a potential respiratory risk.
According to the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), asbestos is responsible for 55 to 85% of occupational lung cancers each year and could cause up to 90,000 deaths in Europe.
“Asbestos is still present in buildings from the 1960s and 1970s, ageing, collapsing, inhaled,” Eric Jonckheere, president of the Belgian Association of Asbestos Victims, told the ETUC. “People need to be aware of that.”
Although asbestos was banned in the EU in 2005, around 220 million buildings were built in Europe before that date, and its symptoms can appear after a latency period of 20 to 40 years.
“Workers have paid with their lives for low safety standards for too long,” Stahl said in a statement for Workers Memorial Day (Friday, April 28). “We now know that asbestos is the deadliest workplace threat in Europe, so there is no excuse for half measures.”
Between 4.1 and 7.3 million workers are exposed to asbestos in the construction, renovation, waste management and firefighting sectors. A figure that is expected to increase by 4% over the next decade due to the wave of European renovations that accompanies the Green Deal, according to the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).
The EU is reviewing the limits below which it is considered safe for workers to be exposed to this material.
Last September, the EU executive proposed to revise the directive to reduce the limit tenfold to 0.01 fiber per cubic centimeter.
According to a study by the commission, this reduction would mean a reduction in asbestos-related cancer deaths from 884 to 26 over the next 40 years.
It would also reduce the healthcare costs of caring for these patients, which range from €270-610 billion per year (1.8-4.1% of EU GDP).
The European Parliament’s Employment Committee has already approved its position, which will now be voted on by all MEPs.
“The text adopted today responds to a triple requirement: a health requirement for prevention, a requirement for equity to reduce health disparities, and a methodological requirement for basing legislation on scientific data”, declared the MEP. Renew Europe Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, who wrote the report, in a later statement.
If the limit is reduced to the level proposed by the committee (and reflected in the parliament’s text), some member states such as Denmark, France, Germany or the Netherlands would have to lower their limits significantly.
The council has already defined its position at the end of 2022, so that the final tripartite negotiations (the so-called trilogues) will start once the report of the parliamentary employment committee has been adopted in plenary.