Commission extends ban on asbestos products in EU
The European Commission has adopted a Directive which will ban almost all remaining uses of chrysotile (white) asbestos from January 2005. Asbestos, which causes cancer and is particularly damaging to the human lung, exists in six different types, five of which the Commission banned in 1991. At this time, some 14 specific uses of chrysotile asbestos were also banned. However, a number of uses for which no acceptable substitute had been found were still permitted. Under the new Directive, based on wide-ranging scientific advice, the ban will be extended to chrysotile in asbestos cement products (mainly pipes and roofing), friction products (e.g. brake and clutch linings for heavy vehicles), and seals and gaskets, as well as various specialist uses. No new uses of chrysotile may be introduced in Member States from 26 August 1999, and the marketing and use of asbestos fibres, and products containing asbestos fibres will not be permitted from 1 January 2005. Asbestos products already in use by 26 August 1999 may continue to be used until they reach the end of their normal service life, or are disposed of. However, Member States are free to introduce stricter restrictions to prohibit the use of such products earlier. One remaining use of chrysotile has not been banned, however - in diaphragms which are used for electrolysis in certain chlorine plants. This exception is justified because no safe alternative has been developed and this process is carried out on closed sites under strictly controlled conditions. This exception will be reviewed in 2007, when the Commission will review the functioning of the Directive in the light of the latest scientific developments. Already nine Member States have introduced bans on chrysotile asbestos in their territories, and others are in favour of doing so. Three others cited economic objections against a ban, but the Commission believes that the five-year period before the ban comes into force will alleviate these concerns and allow sufficient time to establish alternatives.