Posted by Andrew Bone Monday, 3rd October 2016
Asbestos has been used since the turn of the last century for its properties of heat-resistance. Despite warnings as early as the 1930s that the fibres it releases could be damaging to health, industry continued to use it abundantly. Today, there are over 3000 products made of or containing asbestos.
In Switzerland, it is estimated that between 60-80% of buildings, particularly those built between 1950 - 1980, are contaminated with asbestos. Under Swiss law, these need to be assessed, and the categories of asbestos, primarily weakly or strongly bonded, identified, and entered in the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) Asbestos Registry. Spray asbestos, cement asbestos and asbestos board, are the most common asbestos-containing materials used.
Some countries, including Switzerland, have restrictive statute of limitations, preventing the prosecution of claims for damages to a timeframe inappropriate to asbestos given that it can take thirty years before the most serious effects can be conclusively identified in a patient. This not only prolongs the suffering and compensation of victims, but also relieves industry of the pressure which insurance companies would otherwise have brought to bear on them.
Strongly-bonded asbestos materials are less urgent than weakly-bonded, since there is little likelihood of fibres being released under normal conditions and building use. Only in the cases of physical work being conducted on the materials, such as during renovation or demolition, are protective measures required, and hazardous substance disposal regulations apply.
Weakly-bonded asbestos, such as in spray applications and board, present a greater hazard, since its fibres are typically found to be present in enclosed spaces through normal use and conditions. This asbestos needs to be removed quickly and a time period of one year is set as the maximum.