On 14th March 2013, the European Parliament resolved by an overwhelming majority vote of 558 to 51 to ‘eradicate’ asbestos use by 2028. It’s not the first time that calls for a worldwide ban have been made. While more than 50 countries around the world have prohibited asbestos use as an insulating material in the last two decades, still two million tonnes of the deadly mineral is mined and exported annually to developing industrial economies.

Between 1994 and 2008, the world wide fatality rate for mesothelioma had passed 92,250 or 6,000 every year (World Health Organisation). Nearly 5 million metric tonnes of asbestos was being used by around 25 countries per year throughout a peak period in the middle to late twentieth century with 85 countries involved in industrial scale manufacture of asbestos-containing products.

As asbestos awareness to the fatal long-term health risks of asbestosis diseases and mesothelioma cancer became more readily accepted, a more globalised ban on all forms of asbestos was set into motion, including most members of the European Union. The first ban on using asbestos fibres as an industrial insulation material was introduced in the UK from the mid 1980s onwards and a final EU-wide ban on all asbestos imports adopted in 1999.

Human carcinogen

Despite being confirmed as a human carcinogen, the ban on asbestos minerals has never been universal. Over many decades, both national and international organisations have been striving to persuade countries such as Canada, Russia, China, India and Mexico to stop either importing or exporting asbestos and asbestos-containing products.

However, the EU resolution taken at its Strasbourg headquarters contains an ironic twist. In the same week, it called upon the European Commission to implement a co-ordinated removal strategy by a screening and registration programme for public buildings contaminated by asbestos, the EU building itself was found to possess asbestos fibres hidden within its walls.

Leading the resolution was Stephen Hughes MEP, vice-president of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament who said that “ despite a growing number of bans, asbestos remains in millions of buildings, office and ships worldwide.”

The World Health Organisation has estimated that 107,000 workers die annually from exposure to asbestos and between 20,000 and 30,000 cases of asbestos-related disease are recorded every year in the EU alone.