One in ten federal government buildings have been subject to measures in the last five years to deal with the presence of asbestos, L’Echo reports.
The use of asbestos in construction has been banned in Belgium since 1998, yet the problem still exists 20 years later among the government’s own buildings. Asbestos, once popular as a building material for its fire-retardant properties, is now known to be lethal to anyone exposed who breathes in or otherwise ingests the fibres. Though it can take 20 to 40 years, asbestos can cause cancer of the lungs and stomach, as well as a condition known as asbestosis, which involves shortness of breath, persistent cough and chest pain, and can lead to cancer and heart disease.
But despite work on federal buildings to contain or remove asbestos, 104 buildings, or about one in ten, have been worked on in the last five years, showing that the problem still persists two decades after work began. In some cases, the paper reports, the asbestos in question was fully removed. In others, the only measures that have so far been taken are the taking and testing of samples.
The figures came to light as a result of a parliamentary question to the minister responsible for the government’s buildings agency, and if anything they underestimate the problem, since some measures have been carried out in other buildings in the margins of other works, and have not been listed as asbestos treatment.
Among the works listed are a sum in excess of 250,000 euros for the removal and disposal of asbestos uncovered when putting a new roof on a police station in Uccle, and 200,000 euros for a similar project in Etterbeek. Other buildings where work relating to asbestos was carried out include the Monnaie theatre (pictured), the former justice palace in Antwerp, Ghent prison and a centre for asylum-seekers in Kapellen in Antwerp province. “The quantity of asbestos present in state buildings is being reduced year on year,” said a spokesperson for the buildings agency, Pauline Vachaudez. “During renovation works we regularly eliminate asbestos.”
However, she said, the very presence of asbestos needs to be put into perspective. “Several older buildings of the state do in fact still contain asbestos. But when the asbestos is not damaged or changed in any way, it is not treated, and its presence is not a problem.”