Then and now: Asbestos removal

26 July 2012

Then and now: Asbestos removal

Over the last few days a residential neighbourhood of Utrecht has had to be evacuated following the discovery of a particularly dangerous form of asbestos in houses there. Despite the continued presence of potentially dangerous asbestos in buildings in the Netherlands having been raised on a number of occasions by SP Members of Parliament, the government has consistently refused to take appropriate action, as the account below demonstrates.

8th April 1999: parliamentary motion from Remi Poppe (SP) and Annie Schrijer-Pierik (Christian Democrat) '...calls on the government, in accordance with the proposal for an amendment to the Resolution on Asbestos Removal, to send to Parliament a plan for a compulsory inventory, including for financing of such.’ The motion was adopted by Parliament, but only partially implemented, as only in the case of buildings which were in the process of either being demolished or renovated was a duty to compile an inventory introduced.

17 December 2002: parliamentary motion from Jan De Wit (SP) '...calls on the government in the framework of the precautionary principle to at last implement compulsory inventory of asbestos in situations other than demolition.’ The motion was rejected.

21 April 2011: parliamentary motion from Paulus Jansen (SP) '...declares that owners of buildings constructed before 1993 which are entered by third parties are responsible for the performance of an asbestos inventory and for making known the results of this inventory to those using/visiting these buildings; calls on the government to draw up a proposal to transform this principle into a binding agreement or legal regulation.’ The motion was rejected.

10 May 2011: Paulus Jansen asked during a debate with Environment and Infrastructure Secretary of State Joop Atsma about the existence of a list of two hundred of the most dangerous buildings in which injected asbestos was processed. Atsma denied any knowledge of such a list.

Injected asbestos is the riskiest of all asbestos, because the concentration of asbestos particles is extremely high and in the event of damage to the asbestos layer these particles can easily be freed. Injected asbestos was in use in the Netherlands until around 1975 as insulation in installations of various kinds and as fireproofing in steel constructions. Its use was banned from 1978.

22 April 2012: During a working visit in his role as MP Paulus Jansen received a copy of an inventory of buildings containing injected asbestos compiled in 1984 by TNO, an independent research body which serves industry and government. The inventory had been commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment and covered 198 buildings including department stores, supermarkets, hospitals, university buildings, the major conference and events facility in Utrecht known as the Jaarbeurs and even the head office of the Bank of the Netherlands. He also tracked down a 1997 report from the Labour Inspectorate evaluating the state of affairs regarding the demolition/decontamination of the 198 buildings, in which it turned out that fully a hundred of them had not been dealt with. In thirty-nine cases the injected asbestos had been damaged and then inadequately screened. The Labour Inspectorate made six recommendations for the treatment of these buildings.

5 juli 2012: Parliamentary Motion from Paulus Jansen (SP) '...calls on the government to inform Parliament on the status of the hundred remaining buildings containing injected asbestos, listed by TNO and, insofar as these buildings have still not been decontaminated, to monitor the application of the obligatory biennial inspection.’ Secretary Atma advised against the adoption of the motion, despite which it was carried with the support of every party with the exception of the hard right PVV.

22 juli 2012: On the first really warm, sunny day of summer, the inhabitants of Stanleylaan in the neighbourhood of Kanaleneiland in Utrecht were startled by an instruction to evacuate their houses following the discovery of injected asbestos. A few days later the evacuation zone was enlarged still further as a result of the lack of knowledge of the main contractor responsible for maintenance with the presence of injected asbestos spraying behind planks used to support guttering.

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