The EU and the UK need to tackle the possible health risks of MMVF

The year 2020 got off to quite a dramatic start, with tensions flaring between the US and Iran. With Brexit looming at the end of January, long-running strikes crippling France and US elections on the horizon, it’s clear that this will not be a dull year.

In the midst of such action, it is difficult for issues such as those that affect construction workers and homeowners to fight for airtime. But where public health is concerned, difficult issues must be tackled. Since EU Today’s report into the health risks of Manmade Vitreous Fibres (MMVF) , or mineral wool, as it is commonly known, this publication has been campaigning for the risks to those handling MMVF to be taken seriously. 2020 is the year for the European Union and the UK to take action.

MMVF is used for thermal and acoustic insulation in homes and businesses around the world. Since asbestos was banned in 1999 in most countries, MMVF has de facto become the replacement technology. However, a study raised serious questions over the risks to public health posed by this product.

Previously designated as carcinogenic by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency on the Research on Cancer (IARC), MMVF was declassified as such by both agencies following testing on a reformulated product in 1995 ( although the EU still classifies it as a suspected cause of cancer).

The study reveals that the 1995 tests were conducted on MMVF that had had a key constituent, a form of binder, removed. The product that was tested and deemed to be non-carcinogenic by the WHO and IARC is not that product being bought and used by construction workers and DIY enthusiasts alike.

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

EU Today has recommended legislative action in three areas. These include the retesting (of the product as it is actually sold) for MMVF to ascertain the risk of cancer posed by the handling of the product. The second recommendation is Health and Safety legislation to protect construction workers and others exposed to MMVF, to ensure that adequate information about the risks is available, and the mandatory provision and use of safety equipment on site.

Finally, we also see to see product labelling to ensure that health warnings are displayed prominently on all packaging.

Concerns about rising energy costs and global warming have both placed insulation high on the political agenda: the rush to find a replacement for Asbestos has led to a potentially carcinogenic product, and one which is known to cause life threatening respiratory disease, becoming the industry norm. What we now know as Asbestosis was first identified in London in 1900. It took 99 years for governments to act to protect public health. The European Union – and indeed the UK post-Brexit -- must act much more promptly in the case of MMVF.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published 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.

Gary's latest 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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