What is an asbestos removal expert

asbestosThe fateful universal material

"We then wanted to have a look at the repair of a turbine. So, and now suddenly a compensator rips - a chock between the pipelines. There was a lot of dust. Both of us, we got out there - encased from head to toe with asbestos insulation."

"We had the first reports of damage to health, which were also really robust in the medical-statistical field, at the end of the 50s and beginning of the 60s. But it took until 1993 until asbestos was banned in the Federal Republic of Germany, and in the EU even up to 2005 - almost fifty years between knowledge and real action. "

Contrary to what is often assumed, asbestos is not only a problem from the day before yesterday, but also from today and the day after tomorrow. The unconditional trust of several generations of engineers and managers in this "universal material" has had disastrous, literally breathtaking consequences. More than one hundred thousand people die each year worldwide from diseases caused by asbestos dust. The dangerous material looks harmless - brittle, somewhat fibrous, mostly whitish or gray, more rarely bluish. It would not be noticed on any heap of rubble. The mineral - some say "asbestos", others "asbestos" - seemed a particularly valuable gift from "Mother Nature". It offered hardly credible possibilities; for over 150 years it was used wastefully: in industrial manufacturing processes - for example in steelworks and chemical plants - in buildings ranging from garages to skyscrapers. By 1980 the material was almost ubiquitous - also in hairdryers and toasters, under bathtubs, in floor coverings, cars and airplanes.

"My name is Herbert Borrmann. I trained as a fitter. I came into contact with asbestos in 1958/59, at the beginning of my apprenticeship. I was working in a rolling mill and there it was for the first time that we came into contact with white asbestos, with asbestos sheets. The material was like a sheet of cardboard. It was white - you could break it off, crumble, get dusty and so on. We had to cut gaskets, we had to wrap pipes, and so on. Then afterwards I started at Stadtwerke Düsseldorf. I was in the turbine insulation sector. It was dusty, weirdly dusty. That was the worst. "

Millions of sick people from asbestos

Millions of people have fallen ill because of asbestos - employees in Russian asbestos mines, in the German construction industry, in the Italian shipbuilding industry, in Japanese car factories…. However, tenants or consumers are also at risk. Herbert Borrmann suffers from asbestosis, a form of "dust lung", he has a greatly increased risk of cancer.

"I have 15 people from my department who have passed away. And all asbestos. "

For a long time there was a kind of willful ignorance about asbestos. It was only in the last few decades that the governments in Germany and other highly developed countries restricted the use of the material more and more. There are also strict regulations for dealing with contaminated sites - however, they were not systematically recorded. A large part of the asbestos that was "built in" in West and East Germany around 1980 is still there: for example in roof and facade panels or in drinking water pipes. Ignorance or carelessness are still at play today - repairs or demolition work repeatedly release harmful fine dust. Floor coverings are one of the most important contaminated sites.

"This is the bedroom - yes, we haven't properly secured the room yet. And I came into contact with asbestos here for the first time in 2006. We were able to identify vinyl asbestos plates there. We broke off a sample and put a damp cloth around it, so that there was not so much dust left and then we had them tested and then found out that there was 20 percent chrysotile asbestos in it. "

Until recently, the social pedagogue Rudolf Jost and his wife lived in a pretty old building in the Schöneberg inner city district of Berlin.

"Those are the panels. The panels are now 32 years old - then they start to break. In the other rooms we put a construction sheet over the panels and sealed the ends with silicone."

Building material was prescribed by the authorities

After violent arguments with the house owner about the removal of the dangerous material, the couple finally moved into an "unencumbered" new building. Asbestos does not conduct electricity, and neither does it affect flames or acids. From the beginning of the industrial age, the material was used for heat insulation - in steam engines, blast furnaces, in power plants or in mechanical engineering. Designers also considered the raw material indispensable in locomotives, tanks and ships. Asbestos served not only as insulation, but also as a stabilizing additive in brake linings. Generations of cars left behind barely visible veils of dangerous dust after each braking. The construction industry consumed a particularly large amount of asbestos - by far the greatest number of contaminated sites in Germany are due to this. Authorities prescribed the material for fire protection, on steel girders, radiators, power lines or in air conditioning systems - often in the form of sprayed asbestos, a foam-like material. Enthusiastic engineers and determined managers were constantly discovering new application possibilities. Asbestos also makes cement more stable. The company Eternit offered an almost unmanageable range of asbestos cement products worldwide, roof and facade panels, acoustic ceilings and flower boxes. Window putty, plaster, roofing felt or asphalt also often contained asbestos. Rudolf Jost encountered the risk material not only in his apartment in Berlin-Schöneberg, but also in his basement.

"These are now the Eternit pipes from the sewage system. Here you can see - there is asbestos cement. And in some cases - this has not yet been clarified - there are also water supply pipes made of asbestos, which means that you may have asbestos particles in the drinking water. "

Craftsmen or tenants laid comfortable asbestos-containing floor coverings in millions of homes and offices. The mineral makes the respective base material more durable. Dr. Konrad Schwellnus from the consulting firm Wartig Nord in Hamburg, an expert in asbestos removal.

"We have floor coverings here - here, for example, a PVC-based floor panel with asbestos fibers in it. On the back we can see a residue of bitumen adhesive - these bitumen adhesives on the asbestos panels also very often contain asbestos. This is an old linoleum flooring, you can see the jute back - such linoleum flooring can also contain asbestos. "

Perceived danger late

Ovens, stoves, irons, toasters, hairdryers and radios also often contained asbestos. Far too late, managers and politicians realized that asbestos can cause deadly diseases. Because when the material is processed or worn, fine dust is released that settles in the respiratory tract. The most common disease is asbestosis. It threatens miners and construction workers who have stood in the dust for years. This form of "pneumonia" often makes life hell for victims with attacks of suffocation, in the worst case it leads to lung failure. In addition, inhaling the dust can cause lung, larynx or esophageal cancer - and the otherwise very rare mesothelioma, a cancer of the pleura. In contrast to asbestosis, even small amounts of dust are sufficient for this. Warnings about the risks of asbestos existed before the First World War. Konrad Schwellnus:

"Life insurers started at that point, not selling people who work in asbestos mining to life insurance."

But those responsible ignored the concerns of individual occupational physicians for many decades. The former asbestos isolator Herbert Borrmann from Düsseldorf does not remember any warnings:

"That was cut either with a knife, a sharp knife, or with a saw - everything without a face mask. So we continued to work there too. "

When politics finally took up the issue, some works councils and trade union representatives resisted a quicker "exit" - they were afraid of losing jobs. Two to three million workers in Germany - East and West - came into contact with asbestos on construction sites or in factories in the second half of the 20th century. But also outside of the working world, many people inhaled dangerous dust. Hundreds of thousands fell ill, tens of thousands died - there are no reliable numbers.

"In my opinion, and we all agree - there is no one hundred percent protective measure with asbestos."

"From our own experience, we don't want to be the gravedigger of our colleagues. And that's why we will do everything we can to ensure that none of us will work on this ship."

In 1983, workers at Bremen's VULKAN shipyard spoke about their fears.

"Yes, what does job mean? I can't secure my job there, in order to endanger my health and shorten my lifespan, that's not possible."

The first ban in Germany came in 1979

Since the 1970s, awareness of health and environmental risks has increased in industrialized countries. In 1979, at least spray asbestos - the most dangerous form of use of the mineral - was banned in the Federal Republic of Germany. A final ban on asbestos - more precisely, a ban on sale and re-use - was only decided in Germany in 1993, in the EU in 2005. Today, the general public thinks that Germany no longer has asbestos problem. But that is by no means the case. Most buildings completed before the mid-1990s remain suspect. Rudolf Jost is dissatisfied with the legal situation regarding contaminated sites:

"The state has not yet seen any need for action. There are still no regulations when the fibers are released that they are removed. There are only regulations when they are completely weathered how they have to be rehabilitated - but not now that they have to be rehabilitated. "

Only a small part of the buildings between Rügen and the Black Forest was systematically examined. Asbestos cement in particular is still present on countless structures in roof and facade panels, in chimneys and installation shafts - or in pipes. Andreas Otto, construction expert for the Greens in the Berlin state parliament, points to another forgotten problem - floor coverings containing asbestos ...

"... which just break, be it through mechanical stress or if someone is working on something on the floor."

Today the risks come from slow product wear, but even more from careless demolition and renovation work. Many workers or DIY enthusiasts are indifferent or uninformed. In addition, the material is so inconspicuous that it cannot be clearly identified without laboratory analysis. If a roof panel is sawn up, millions of insidious asbestos fibers can be released.

"You want to drill a dowel in the wall - if the wall contains asbestos, you shouldn't do it without protective measures. "

Asbestos removal expert Konrad Schwellnus. All work should be carried out by a certified specialist company - with respiratory protection equipment, an airtight seal made of foil and safety vacuum cleaners. Some homeowners or do-it-yourselfers see this as much less complicated:

"There are people who say to themselves," It's so expensive anyway, it's pointless anyway - and nobody saw it, get rid of it. "

There are also deficits at smaller construction companies. Rudolf Jost intervened during renovation work ...

"... because we had noticed beforehand that the panels were being handled carelessly in neighboring apartments. You just broke it out, carried it down with buckets - you didn't take any protective measures at all. "

The Berliner was one of the co-founders of an initiative against the careless handling of asbestos contamination. There are strict legal regulations for repair or dismantling work - compliance is only checked in exceptional cases. The Green MP Andreas Otto:

"We do indeed propose an inventory, which can contain a register or cadastre, but also an identification of the buildings. Following the example of the energy certificate, you could hang up an asbestos or pollutant passport in the stairwell. Then everyone who moves in would know "Wait a minute, here is something". "

Asbestos is still used in many countries

In most of the world, hardly any consequences have been drawn from the "asbestos tragedy". In Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Brazil, mining is continuing. In many countries, construction and industry continue to use the deadly material. According to the World Health Organization, around 125 million workers are exposed to such dust today. Twenty years after the ban, one to two thousand people, mainly former industrial or construction workers, die of asbestosis and asbestos-related lung or pleural cancer in Germany every year. The mineral is responsible for at least one hundred thousand deaths worldwide every year. In addition, there are many more asbestosis diseases that do not end fatally - and yet are often excruciating.

"I've lost 20 kilos now because of my illness. When you notice that you can hardly walk without stopping - that's annoying. I can't do anything with my grandchildren - or help the woman somewhere. If I come up the stairs alone, I have to stop three times for one floor on the way. "

Herbert Borrmann. Since cancer from asbestos dust usually only breaks out decades after contact, the peak of this wave of the disease will probably not reach its peak until between 2020 and 2030. In total, several hundred thousand people between Rostock and Freiburg could become victims of asbestos - more precisely, victims of the indifference of scientists, managers and politicians. Incredible sums will be payable in the next few decades when most of the buildings built in the 20th century have reached the end of their useful life and have to be demolished. A large part of them should contain the ominous material. Is the history of asbestos just an "unfortunate individual case"? Risk researcher Prof. Ortwin Renn from the University of Stuttgart:

"We don't even know 5 percent of all chemicals in terms of their toxicological properties. And of course we always have new chemicals that are created."

In Germany and the EU, there was a reluctance to rethink politics. The EU REACH program in 2007 marked a turning point. REACH stands for "Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals". Materials of natural origin are also included. However, it will be many years before the most important thirty thousand materials - out of more than a hundred thousand - have been tested for health risks. In addition, politicians in Germany in particular have "scaled back" research on toxins - toxicology - in recent years.

"That is one more point I have to come back to - that we need a lot more toxicology and not less. So we are also very concerned about that."

"General displacement process"

In contrast to the USA, Japan or Italy, there are hardly any asbestos-affected initiatives in Germany. Rudolf Jost from Berlin is one of the few who got involved:

"It's such a general process of displacement, you could say, with a lot of people. We launched this initiative and also rang many front doors and informed people and invited them - it happened to many that they said" That's none of my business "- or" I'm not interested "or something."

The risk researcher Ortwin Renn from the University of Stuttgart says:

"If I apply a lot of pressure and say - here, 10,000 people protesting - then politics has to deal with it. When it comes to asbestos, nobody is on the street. And then such risks, the" creeping "ones, can be. Risks are easy to overlook. "

An exception were the - successful - protests since 2011 against the planned transport of gigantic quantities of asbestos waste from Wunstorf in Lower Saxony to supposedly safer landfills. Millions of people have fallen seriously ill or died because of asbestos. In addition, there were huge losses in prosperity. It was - and is - one of the greatest technical disasters.

"Of course it is a drama when you look at how many buildings such Eternit products were installed in - there are many, many contaminated sites. All the asbestos-cement roofs, the asbestos-cement facades alone ... We are only at the beginning. And I am sure we won't be through in 20 years. "