Todays Date
January 22, 2019

Carcinogenic asbestos ending in fields instead of dumps

Municipalities without special places for selection and storage of asbestos waste. Ordinary citizens throw it together with ordinary waste, unwittingly exposing themselves to the risk of inhaling asbestos dust and particles that cause cancer

Author: Ivanka Spirovska-Zivosovska

 

Two children are playing and in their hands holding small gray broken pieces of roof recently replaced of the block of flats where they live. With their hands they broke the pieces of the roof thrown in the trash pile, where the locals over time got used to dispose other waste, in which you can see everything. Seemingly naive children’s game ignores the fact that what they hold in their hands is not a toy, but carcinogenic pieces of asbestos sheets that in Europe were banned long ago.

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Schools, kindergartens, municipal buildings, even entire neighborhoods in the country are covered with harmful asbestos sheets that no one wants to be responsible for. No state institution knows exactly how much area is covered with asbestos or where the material is embedded. Rare are companies that should deal with this waste in a special way because its inhaling is with dire consequences. The official figure shows that annually, due to asbestos exposure, dozens of people are treated from cancer, reported in some institutions. Although it is estimated that the number is higher and due to the fact that carcinogenic asbestos kills slowly for years.

Sveti Nikole is one of the municipalities whose citizens are afraid to drink water from the local water supply due to asbestos pipes, which residents connect with the growing number of people with cancer. We visited the municipality to ask what is the opinion of the authorities in connection with this matter and if they have information where there are asbestos materials in their municipality, how and where it is removed. Officially, representatives of the municipality argued that there was no danger to the citizens of the water, but the official who we talked to personally admitted that he buys water. And officially we addressed the municipality, where they said they had facilities throughout the municipality covered with asbestos materials, including a post office, a school and many other additional facilities. But to the question where asbestos waste is deposited, the answer was indeed staggering:

“The waste is transferred from facility to facility and is removed from the town and moved to an annex building in the outskirts or in facilities in their own fields”, they say from municipality Sveti Nikole. Asbestos, according to them, is removed by the owners without any protective equipment. Although, according to the legislation, there is an exact prescribed manner for removing asbestos surfaces that otherwise need to be removed by a specialized company for that purpose, whose workers have to work with special equipment.

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We requested information from municipalities whether they have information about the presence of asbestos surfaces and if they have an established system for managing asbestos and asbestos waste. Most of the larger municipalities did not have any data about public institutions, or about individual dwellings of residents who have asbestos surfaces. Researching the problem with asbestos, we found that even whole neighborhoods in some municipalities are covered with asbestos. Nobody cares how asbestos is removed by ordinary citizens, nor where deposited.

No municipality has special places for selection and storage of asbestos waste.

Most often, without knowing, ordinary citizens throw it together with ordinary waste, unwittingly exposing themselves to the risk of inhaling asbestos dust and particles that cause many diseases including cancer.

Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning has no data on the quantities of embedded asbestos materials, and they say that it is not in their jurisdiction. This assertion is completely contrary to the position of municipalities that pointed out that the ministry is responsible for the condition of asbestos presence in public institutions.

Under the Law on Waste Management, waste containing and releasing asbestos particles, fibers or asbestos dust can be stored and disposed in places provided exclusively for that purpose, and shall be separated from other wastes, selected and properly packaged. Only Drisla has such permission from the Ministry. According to data from the site, in the first 10 months of the year, almost double asbestos surfaces were removed compared with 2013. But does this show that citizens and institutions’ awareness of the risk of asbestos has increased?

 

Received and stored quantities of waste containing asbestos components in landfill Drisla in the period from 2011 to 2013

Year

Quantity ( ton )

2011

51,26

2012

46,34

2013

76,16

2014 (by 1st November)

111,22

 

Experts say that asbestos itself is not dangerous unless damaged. The problem arises if there is violation of the surfaces where it is embedded as then the particles are carried by wind and can be fatal to humans if inhaled.

According to information from the Department of Pulmonology 7-10 new cases of cancer are annually diagnosed as a result of asbestos exposure. While about 90% of all cancers in men and about 50% of cancer types in women are due to occupational asbestos exposure.

Pulmonary specialist Jordan Minov from the Institute of Occupational Health – WHO Collaborating Centre says that Macedonia has legislation for Protection of workers exposed to asbestos. It is harmonized with EU legislation and covers all areas of professional care.

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Jordan Minov

 

“Workers who are exposed to asbestos, according to legislation, require preventive examinations and they are applied in the Center of Occupational Health. But we have no information about occupational exposure to asbestos within small construction companies, as well as ordinary citizens who often alone remove asbestos during renovation and demolition, unprofessionally and without personal protective equipment”, says Professor Minov. He adds that right here attention should be paid to preventive care and increase awareness through greater informing.

Karpos Municipality is one of the few municipalities that are active in terms of dealing with asbestos. Much of asbestos surfaces of schools and kindergartens in the municipality have been replaced by other safer materials. Asbestos has been removed by specialized companies, they say. But in this municipality, as well as many others, there is no plan, no system for dealing with asbestos.

Bitola Municipality says it has no records of hazardous asbestos and refers to the Ministry of Environment. Prilep Municipality has no data how many facilities are with asbestos, or who or how removes it. Strumica Municipality has no information about embedded asbestos materials in any facilities, and so far they have neither removed waste, nor have a special landfill for such waste. The municipality has no plan for managing asbestos. Neither Negotino has a special system for handling this type of waste, and two kindergartens are covered with sheets containing asbestos, as well as local schools in villages Krivolak and Pepeliste. In  Stip Municipality primary and secondary schools are covered with asbestos sheets, although the municipality has no information on how many areas are covered with this construction material. They neither know who and how removes this hazardous waste, nor the municipality has established a plan or system for managing the hazardous waste.

Asbestos does not decompose, but slowly kills

Depending on the degree of association of asbestos in a product or material and the degree of impairment, microscopic asbestos fibers are released in the air in small or large quantities. When these fibers are inhaled, they can enter the lungs and remain there for many years. Based on their consistency and structure, asbestos fibers that will deposit in the lungs can no longer be decomposed.

Workers who inhale dust during demolition or renovation and replacement of asbestos materials (if fragile) may be at risk for lung cancer, mesothelium, asbestosis, a disease that causes scarring and stiffening of the lungs. Asbestosis is an untreatable lung disease whose cause is microscopic particles of asbestos. After inhalation of harmful particles, the disease can occur even after ten years and therefore it is difficult to immediately detect whether someone is suffering from asbestosis. Symptoms of the disease are manifested by wheezing, coughing, bronchitis, and death after extensive inflammation.

The time between asbestos exposure and the first signs of the disease may be 30 years.

Unlike them, Cair Municipality describes in detail how many asbestos surfaces have so far been replaced in public institutions. As stated in their response, on the territory of Cair so far 6,700 square meters of asbestos roof have been changed in schools and the plan is to replace the roof of the three remaining schools in the municipality.

Ohrid Municipality, meanwhile, is planning to replace part of the asbestos water pipes as well as part of the roof structures of schools. They cite the Law on Waste Management and claim that municipalities are responsible only for the communal, while Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning is responsible for the hazardous waste.

In Butel Municipality asbestos is present in the roof construction of kindergartens and schools. It is about 15,000 square meters. So far 6,000 square meters have been removed. Municipality announces that next year is “a year of education when they will take major construction activities”.

On the initiative of the World Health Organization Macedonia has signed Parma Declaration. Accordingly, Macedonia is obliged by the end of 2015 to develop and adopt a national program “National program for elimination of asbestos-related diseases”.

It remains to be seen if Macedonia will succeed within a time limit to adopt the Profile and based on it to prepare a National program as a strategic document.

Harmfulness of asbestos established even in the 1970s of the last century

The first proven results that asbestos is harmful to health appeared in the seventies of the last century. Since then a number of European countries, after having observed health problems caused by asbestos, have started passing laws to limit or ban the production and sale of asbestos. Scandinavian countries first banned the use, while for the last few years there has been almost no European country that can produce or trade with asbestos products.

The largest producer and exporter of asbestos is Russia which together with China and India uninterruptedly continues to use asbestos products in everyday processes, especially in construction. In industries with products containing asbestos it is essential to pay attention to take all necessary and special measures for people’s protection, especially when asbestos material is removed, when materials containing asbestos are broken (dismantling or putting roofs, facade coatings, floor mats or tiles with mixtures of filling) as well as dismantling of building elements in contact with asbestos.

Before starting any activity, it is necessary to carry out education of employees who will be in contact with asbestos. Particular attention should be paid to properties of asbestos and health consequences, use of protective equipment, particularly use of respiratory equipment, decontamination, disposal and medical supervision.

 

(The story was is supported within the NED project “Raising Awareness about Corruption through Investigative Reporting”)