Risks associated with asbestos – what do we know?
Diseases caused by exposure to asbestos include lung cancer, mesothelioma (lung or peritoneal cancer) or asbestosis (lungs). The diseases are caused by inhaling microscopic fibers that are released from damaged asbestos. The Netherlands aims to reduce asbestos related deaths to zero by 2040. The number of victims is currently estimated at around 1000 people per year. Since July 1993, the use of asbestos by Dutch companies is prohibited. Therefore, it can not be sold, imported, distributed or processed.
Asbestos has been widely used in construction products, including roofing, vinyl floors and chimney pipes.
In the Netherlands as of 2024, companies and individuals will no longer be allowed to have asbestos roofs. Old roofs can be affected by weather conditions like wind, which means that asbestos fibers can be released. On December 15, 2018, the governmental subsidy program for asbestos removal was closed. Individuals currently interested in financial support may apply to municipalities with a request for the so-called “asbestsubsidies”.
Risk related to asbestos in the light of recent research results
In February 2019, scientists from TNO, Utrecht University, Radboud University and Crisislab, published results of their study (publication in Dutch), indicating that risks assigned to asbestos are smaller than expected. This does not mean, however, that in each analyzed case the asbestos was found to be less harmful.
Scenarios adopted in the research process
Researchers analyzed six scenarios of possible exposure to asbestos.
- A fire in a building where asbestos was used, with a threat to the fire brigade and the surrounding area.
- Working with ceiling tiles containing asbestos by private individuals, installers and specialists.
- Living in houses, in which asbestos pollution occurs.
- Working in or visiting a building, in which asbestos pollution occurs.
- Work of maintenance personnel in areas where there are applications containing asbestos that have caused pollution.
- Removal of asbestos roofs by specialists or private individuals.
The results of the study indicate that, especially in occupational exposure situations, the risk or long-term health damage may be high. In one particular scenario there is a very high risk of cancer: namely, when employees daily demolish ceiling tiles with unbound asbestos without using personal protective equipment. In this situation, a protective budget of EUR 10,000 to EUR 24,000 per year is available, depending on the type of asbestos. The current Dutch policy against asbestos is therefore strictly restrictive for this situation.
In many scenarios, the risk is greater or approximately equal to the maximum acceptable risk. This is the level of risk that is considered acceptable in the Netherlands for the exposure of workers and the public. A typical example of such a scenario is an installer who drills a hole in the asbestos ceiling several times a month. The protection budget in this situation is 10 euros per year, for which you can, for example, buy a vacuum cleaner for a drill.
The above-quoted document contains detailed calculations of the budget as well as recommendations for personal protection measures for the mentioned scenarios. If you have any questions, please contact our office.