Rockwool Facing Public Opposition Over New Mineral Wool Production Factories

Growing awareness of health concerns over the health risks associated with mineral wool, more correctly known as Man-Made Vitreous Fibres (MMVF), as reported by EU Today in July of this year are driving the development of safer alternatives. However, MMVF currently remains the material of convenience for the building trade and private homeowners alike, when it comes to thermal insulation of buildings.

MMVF, following the EU wide ban on the use of Asbestos as a building material, became, de facto, the replacement technology. As a result of strong lobbying, which might be considered as being detrimental to public health, certain MMVF currently classified by the EU as “a suspected cause of cancer” are seeing strong commercial growth, a situation that is currentlyvcausing concern amongst EU lawmakers.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency on the Research on Cancer (IARC) had categorised MMVF as carcinogenic until 1995; following retesting they were declassified as such. However, as EU Today previously reported, the tests were apparently flawed in that the product as tested was not that which is marketed today.

As well as raising fears of cancer; MMVF are also known to be a significant cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a serious long term illness that reduces lung capacity.

One of the biggest players in the MMVF market is the Copenhagen-based Rockwool Group. 

The company is currently engaged in the highly controversial construction of a stone wool factory in Romania, and is reported to have already invested around €50 million in the project.

Located on approximately 30 hectares in the Aricestii-Rahtivani locality near Ploiesti, in Prahova county, the new manufacturing facility will be the Rockwool Group’s first stone wool factory in the country.

Romania is very attractive for such a venture due to low labour costs and what can best be described as a “laissez-faire” attitude towards environmental and public health concerns. 

Due to the current political favour for insulation in new builds, be they commercial or residential, demand for mineral wool insulation is growing. In the United States alone the sector is forecast to grow 3.4% annually.

However, in the US public outcry against the building of a Rockwool facility in Ranson, Jefferson County, West Virginia, – a factory that will produce stone wool used in building insulation for housing and other industrial projects– has led, as recently as last month, the Board of Education to formally ask Rockwool to halt its construction plans until results from an independent Human Health Risk assessment are received. 

The Board expressed serious concerns in regard to air quality, pollution and child safety.

According to a report by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the chemicals to potentially be emitted from two 21-story tall smoke stacks include formaldehyde, sulphur-dioxide, lead, carbon monoxide, soot, large and small particulate matter and sulphuric acid.

“I speak for many when we say that there will be a lot of families moving out if Rockwool moves in,” resident Leigh Smith said at an Aug. 8 Charles Town City Council meeting. “I am not going to have my kids growing up and going to a school 2 miles away from that facility.”

Concerns about rising energy costs and global warming have both placed insulation high on the political agenda: however, it appears that the technology that is seen to address these highly topical issues is bringing with it public health issues at least as serious as that of Asbestos, which is believed to claim the lives of 12,000 to 15,000 workers in the US each year to this day.

Read also: 

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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