UN warning on asbestos risk in Europe

One in three people in Europe are at risk from asbestos exposures, with the deadly fibre claiming thousands of lives in the region each year, a United Nations (UN) report has warned. A high-level meeting on environment and health in Europe on 30 April appealed urgently to all European countries to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.

The report showed that one third of the 900 million people living in the region are potentially exposed to asbestos at work and in the environment. “We cannot afford losing almost 15,000 lives a year in Europe, especially workers, from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, of the World Health Organisation’s Europe office. “Every death from asbestos-related diseases is avoidable,” added the UN agency’s regional director.

The report presented at the meeting indicated that asbestos is responsible for about half of all deaths from cancers developed at work. According to new estimates, deaths from mesothelioma in 15 European countries cost society more than 1.5 billion euros annually.

While 38 of the 53 member states in the region have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, the remaining 15 countries still use asbestos, especially for building materials, and some continue to produce and export it. Two of these producer nations, Russia and Kazakhstan, are spearheading efforts to resist further controls on asbestos trade. According to the WHO news release, even after its use has ceased, asbestos lingers in the environment, so it needs to be safely removed and disposed without delay.

* WHO guidelines on elimination of asbestos related diseases.

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