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ESMO Welcomes the Adoption of the Report on Asbestos in the European Parliament’s EMPL Committee, which Aims to Prevent New Cancer Cases Caused by Asbestos

03 May 2023

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) in the European Parliament adopted its Report on the revision of the European Union’s (EU) rules on work-related exposure to asbestos on Wednesday 26 April 2023. The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) welcomes this adoption as the proposed changes of the EMPL Report reflect our advocacy and are crucial for reducing cancer cases caused by asbestos.

The EU is currently in the process of revising the Asbestos at Work Directive which sets binding EU-wide limits regarding occupational exposure to asbestos. At the centre of this legislation is the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) to asbestos which currently determines that workers cannot be exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 100,000 fibres per m3 (0.1 fibres per cm3) as an 8-hour timeweighted average. The European Commission proposed in September 2022 to lower this OEL to 10,000 fibres per m3 (0.01 fibres per cm3).

Given that asbestos is a proven carcinogenic substance that caused an estimated 71,750 deaths in the EU27 in 2019 due to occupational exposure, ESMO has been advocating for the adoption of strict EU-wide measures to protect workers from asbestos, and called for lowering the OEL further to 1,000 fibres per m3 (0.001 fibres per cm3). ESMO welcomes the inclusion of the 1,000 fibre norm in the final EMPL Report as this legal limit is of crucial importance for preventing new cancer cases.

The EMPL Report also stipulates that fibre counting is to eventually be carried out by measuring methods based on electron microscopy, and that technical guidance will be provided at the EU level to support the roll-out of these measuring methods. ESMO supports the transition towards electron microscopy given that these are more modern and appropriate methods for measuring concentrations of asbestos fibres.

The Report adopted by the EMPL Committee will soon be subject to a vote in the European Parliament’s Plenary, after which the EU institutions will start trilogue negotiations on the final legislative text. ESMO encourages the EU co-legislators to take the amendments of the EMPL Report on board - especially the reduced OEL of 1,000 fibres per m3 - and stands ready to support the development of further robust measures aimed at protecting workers from asbestos.

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