Brussels conference calls for EU legislation on Mineral Wool

An event in Brussels addressed the issue of health concerns around mineral wool, also known as Man-Made Vitreous Fibres (MMVF) and calls were made for EU legislation.  

The panel discussion at the Brussels Press Club was moderated by James Wilson, Director of the International Foundation for Better Governance, who introduced the topic by noting that building products would play an “important role” in the EU’s much vaunted new plans for a European Green Deal. 

Wilson said, “These products are going to be essential if we are to cut CO2 emissions but, in the rush to tackle climate change, we must be careful about which products are actually being used. Such efforts should not be at the expense of people in the trade whose health may be adversely affected by MMVF.” 

Mineral wool is a type of thermal insulation made from rocks and minerals. After asbestos was banned in most countries in the 1990s as mineral wool is also called, effectively emerged as the replacement material. But doubts persist on the use of MMVF for building insulation, leading to campaigners wanting any health threats posed by mineral wool to be high on the agenda of the commission.  

Gary Cartwright, a Brussels based publisher and author of a study on MMVF, spoke at the event and said: “There is a real risk associated with this particular material and, like asbestos, people need to be made aware of the possible risks.”  

Cartwright’s report highlights health concerns for workers handling mineral wool, which according to Dr Marjoleine Drent, a lung disease expert Maastricht University, include exposure to carcinogens and lung disease, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Cartwright said that any awareness drive, "would provide a greater understanding of any potential health risks involved in the use of the material and what protection measures and information should be made available to construction workers and general members of the public handling it".  

Cartwright went on to explain: “This topic is especially important for Brussels decision-makers as the insulation of homes and workplaces is high on the political agenda as we strive to use more and better insulation given the challenges of climate change and high energy prices. Brussels decision makers have a responsibility to educate themselves about any health risks that might exist for those using mineral wool in our homes and businesses, in the production, installation, removal and disposal of MMVF.” 

The meeting was timely, he said, as the new Commission was about to take up office and it should seriously consider putting the issue “high on the agenda.” 

He said, “We are calling for mandatory rules on protective clothing for those working with this material and more and better information about MMVF  for such people. Information on packaging is also needed for consumers.  

“The message today is that there is an urgent need for much stronger EU legislation on this.

“People are often unaware of the dangers and that is one reason why MEPs on the newly formed relevant committees need to do more to bring it all to the attention of the public and the EU institutions.”

He added, “It took 100 years before legislation was passed to help protect us from asbestos. Let us hope it does not take as long to deal with this issue.

“Big business chooses to go to some lengths to suppress information about the dangers of things like MMVF and that is why new legislation is all the more important.” 

Dr Reinhold Rühl, an industrial chemist and renowned specialist on hazardous substances in the workplace representing the German branch of the European Federation of Builders and Woodworkers, offered a different perspective. He suggested that measures to control the level of dust on construction sites, as well as personal protective measures were considered adequate for controlling any possible hazards presented by handling MMVF.  For Dr. Rühl there was also a distinction between MMVF installed prior to 1997 (EU CLP Regulation) and MMVF products available on the market since 1997, which are not classified as hazardous under German and EU law.

Gary Cartwright reminded the panel that mineral wool was originally classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency on the Research on Cancer (IARC) as carcinogenic and hazardous to humans.  The mineral wool industry then altered the composition of their product, which then underwent further tests. In 2002 mineral wool was declassified as a carcinogen.  Cartwright went on to explain that it has now emerged that the product as tested for that declassification was different from that which is commercially available, in that an important ‘binder’ had been removed, rendering those test results misleading.  He called on the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency to carry out retesting on the product as it is actually sold. 

Read also: EU Today report on health hazards of Mineral Wool now available in French & German

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