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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 yesterday presented a comprehensive approach to better protect people and the environment from asbestos and ensure an asbestos-free future.

The package includes:

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 yesterday 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.

Working towards an asbestos-free future for all

To protect people from exposure to asbestos and prevent risks for future generations, the Commission sets out a comprehensive public health approach to:

  • Better support victims of asbestos-related diseases.
  • Better protect workers from asbestos. The Commission will:
    • propose a revision of the Asbestos at Work Directive to significantly lower the occupational exposure limit value to asbestos;
    • update guidelines to support Member States, employers and workers in implementing the revised Directive; and
    • launch an awareness-raising campaign on the safe removal of asbestos.
  • Improve information on asbestos in buildings. The Commission will:
    • put forward a legislative proposal on the screening and registration of asbestos in buildings. Member States will be asked to develop national strategies for the removal of asbestos; and
    • propose a regulatory approach to introduce digital building logbooks for better sharing and use of building-related data, from design to construction and demolition. 
  • Ensure safe disposal of asbestos and zero pollution. The Commission will:

Significant EU funding is available to support Member States in health prevention, treatment, renovations and safe asbestos removal through the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the European Social Fund Plus and the European Regional Development Fund.

The EU will also continue to play a leading role in the global fight against asbestos, for instance in the context of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, the International Labour Organization, G7 and G20.  

Protecting workers from exposure to asbestos

Workers are at greatest risk of being exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. To improve their protection, the Commission yesterday presented 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.

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