Of the six different types of asbestos, five were banned in the European Union (EU) in 1991, and the remaining type (chrysotile, or white asbestos) was banned in 14 categories of product.

This week’s decision will extend the ban 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. The directive requires the ban to be brought fully into force across the EU by 1 January 2005 at the latest. Many Member States are likely to bring it in earlier or have already done so. The Directive does not require existing asbestos in buildings to be removed. The risk to health from asbestos in buildings is said to be usually very low, if it remains undisturbed.

At the Commission’s request, the Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment undertook a comparative risk assessment analysis of chrysotile asbestos and its main substitutes. In September 1998 it confirmed that there are now safer substitutes which can be used for almost all applications of chrysotile asbestos.

The only exception to the ban is for chrysotile in diaphragms which are used for electrolysis in certain chlorine plants. The Commission says the diaphragms are a special case because they are the only current use of chrysotile asbestos for which it is not technically possible to substitute without creating a safety problem (i.e. a risk of explosion). This derogation will be reviewed (on the basis of an independent scientific risk assessment) both during the planned general review of the directive in 2003, and again specifically in 2008.

Nine of the 15 Members of the EU have already banned chrysotile nationally (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden), although with varying exceptions, which will now need to be aligned with the amended directive by 1st January 2005.

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