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Environment Forum

Latest Posts

Asbestos still in Swiss buildings?

Posted by Cindy Smith Wednesday, 28th September 2016

It was with great interest that I read about Carbotech's commitment to eliminating the hazard of asbestos in buildings. I thought asbestos was banned? Do you think there is still a lot of asbestos in Switzerland?

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.

Posted by Andrew Bone Monday, 3rd October 2016

However, despite its condemnation in the EU and by world bodies such as WHO and ILO, today asbestos is still not listed in the Rotterdam Convention as a hazardous substance (Poisons class/ Giftklasse I). This is due mainly to objections by the powerful asbestos lobby in Canada, who obstructed international efforts to ban the substance till 2012. As a result, today only 30% of WHO countries ban asbestos. Developing countries, including Latin-America countries, Russia, China and India, still allow the import and use of asbestos, and do not provide information or measures for the protection of workers and others exposed to the materials. Thanks Canada!

Posted by Andrew Bone Monday, 3rd October 2016

The authorities concerned with asbestos are:

  • BAG (Bundesamt für Gesundheit, Federal Office for Health) resp. for classifying cancer-causing agents under the Toxic Substances Act. Releases public information about indoor limits.
  • BAFU (Federal Office for the Environment) oversees the implementation of the Hazardous Materials Ordinance. Bans the use, sale and import of asbestos and products that contain asbestos, as well as the disposal of asbestos.
  • SUVA (Schweizersiche Unfallversicherung, Swiss Accident Insurance Fund) : occupational safety and corresponding employer obligations. Preventing occupational illnesses from asbestos in the workplace. Defines TLV (threshold limit values for substances dangerous to human health.
  • Cantons and municipalities: construction codes which affect asbestos removal.
  • Cantonal Occupational Inspector's Office (KAI Kanonale Arbeitsinspektorate) and SECO (Staatssekretariat für Wirtschaft, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs): authorities fr implementing occupation health protection.
  • To simplify the procedures: foundation of the Swiss Coordination Committee Forum for Asbestos (FACH) (Koordinationsgruppe Forum Asbest der Schweiz) in the fall of 2002. Coordinates control measures.

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