The total number of asbestos-related deaths in Europe could peak at 47,000 per year -- 50% higher than previously believed and double the number of deaths caused by road accidents – according to an expert who spoke last month at a conference entitled, Freeing Europe Safely from Asbestos.

Although its use has been banned in the European Union (EU) since 2005, asbestos is still found in many places including ships, trains, machinery, and tunnels as well as in pipes in public and private water distribution networks. Asbestos was used extensively in buildings erected between 1961 and 1990.

What will it cost?

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) estimates that asbestos-removal programs could cost the larger EU member states up to 10-15 billion euros. In the United Kingdom, for example, 80% of existing schools were built with materials containing asbestos.

The EESC and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) are calling upon the European Commission and EU Member States to establish registers of buildings containing asbestos and to devise action plans for safe asbestos removal.

No one is immune

‘From social housing to Royal housing, no property and person is immune,” said the EESC in a statement. “Children and teachers in schools, DIY enthusiasts and maintenance workers are among the new risk groups joining the long list of workers and members of the public increasingly at risk from asbestos-infested buildings across Europe.”

Following the conference, the Spanish trade union confederations CC.OO and UGT adopted a joint statement requesting their authorities to adopt a compensation fund for asbestos victims similar to the ones already in place in other EU countries such as Belgium and the UK.