OSE rejects train risk

The Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) rejected claims yesterday that its trains posed any health risk due to the asbestos-lined insulation used in some of their carriages, but failed to convince about 300 of its employees who walked off the job in fear of working with the carcinogenic material. OSE was responding to a report in Kathimerini that a number of its secondhand trains used on Balkan routes were a health threat because of the asbestos contained in the side paneling. «The carriages comply with all health and safety standards,» OSE said. According to sources, the railway organization recently purchased 21 carriages, to be used for night travel, from the French National Railway Company (SNCF). The carriages belonged to a lot withdrawn by SNCF more than five years ago when it discovered that they contained asbestos and were linked to the cancers developed by some of its employees. The French have since removed most of the asbestos but it can still be found in the carriages’ insulation. In an attempt to play down the entire incident, OSE said yesterday that some of the other SNCF carriages with traces of asbestos are currently being used on other train routes in Europe, such as the Venice-Paris line. Its reassurances, however, have done little to calm fears among its staff, as 300 of its employees in Thessaloniki, currently working on two carriages bought from SNCF, refuse to continue doing so. The carriages are scheduled to be used on the recently launched Thessaloniki-Istanbul line, which the government has been lauding as a means of bringing together the two cities. The employees said they will return to work on the carriages only after samples taken from them have been cleared by independent laboratory tests. Asbestos, which can be easily inhaled when broken down into dust, can pose a health risk even 30 years after its inhalation. Panayiotis Behrakis, a professor of pulmonary health at the University of Athens, told Kathimerini that the body is not able to absorb or reject asbestos. «The asbestos fiber remains stuck in the breathing system, which can then have a cancer-causing impact for decades,» he said.

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