NEWS

Removal from buildings complex and costly, then there’s the problem of what to do with the stuff

According to European Union Directive 1999/77/EC, the trade in and use of all kinds of asbestos in member states stopped completely on January 1, 2005. Asbestos already installed must gradually be removed to lower pollution risk. That is the theory, but in practice asbestos is still being sold as construction material. The thousands of tons of asbestos already in use cannot be removed, at least over the next few years because of the removal’s complexity and cost. Also, safety precautions for workers would need to be on par with those in nuclear installations. Anastasios Travlos, a researcher at the Electronic Microscopy Laboratory of the Democritus Nuclear Research Center in Athens, mentioned several problems within the relevant services and the absence of inspection mechanisms. «According to the law, if there is asbestos at a site that needs to be removed, the contractor is obliged to notify the local prefectural labor inspectorates and to take all necessary precautions,» Travlos said. «The first problem is with checking the work plan. The prefectural staff have no particular experience as none of them have been briefed on the issue and so it is naturally difficult for them to evaluate a work plan properly, even to judge whether it is safe. There is no set way to check whether the contractor has done his job properly or whether the site is actually clear of asbestos once the work is complete.» Just a few months ago, Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis revealed that asbestos tiles had been used in constructing the Thriassio Hospital in Elefsina in the early 1990s. Spyros Kostopoulos, a doctor of work-related diseases there, says the removal should proceed gingerly. «It is better to leave the asbestos in its place, to leave it well alone and make sure it is properly safeguarded rather than to have inexpert teams try and remove it,» Kostopoulos said. But once asbestos is removed, where should it be stored? Some have suggested the quarries where it was originally mined in Zidani, Kozani, but this idea met strong opposition from local residents. So asbestos removed from sites in Greece is exported at great cost to Germany where there are special storage areas. This is a temporary solution as these will soon close.