Film review from an expert's point of view: "Asbestos – the never-ending story"
While the use of asbestos has been banned in Germany since 1993 and EU-wide since 2005, the former miracle fiber continues to be mined and exported by the ton in other parts of the world. The documentary "Asbestos – the never-ending story" by Thomas Dandois and Alexandre Spalaïkovich (France 2022, approx. 90 min.) shows that no one is entirely safe from the pollutant.
Since asbestos is a central part of our daily laboratory work, we naturally follow the reporting on this topic with great attention. We took the time to critically examine the documentary from an expert's point of view. Read our letter to the Arte press department below:
"Dear Ms. Savin,
CRB Analyse Service GmbH is an internationally active, owner-managed analytical laboratory with a focus on the analysis of asbestos in building materials and 30 years of experience in this field. Therefore, we have noted your contribution to raising awareness about asbestos with great interest.
The documentary film impressively shows the origins of the industrial mining of asbestos up to the present. It also deals with the irrationality of economically dependent employees and families in dealing with the hazardous substance. The resulting contaminated sites in the vicinity of the mining areas in Canada, Russia, and Corsica are presented in a comprehensible way and finally, the exploitative "disposal conditions" in countries such as Bangladesh are described as well as the production of fiber cement containing asbestos in insufficiently regulated countries, such as Colombia, which continued until recently.
Unfortunately, the film does not sufficiently address the aspect of the health hazards for the population worldwide, not only in Europe, which still persists today. It is true that an example is given of a suburb of Barcelona in which asbestos cement products were used on a large scale. However, this example does not express the actual extent of the risks posed by asbestos in existing buildings. Therefore, the film must be clearly criticized and ideally completed with an addition.
By only mentioning fiber cement and pure asbestos products in the film, it is falsely suggested that these are the only asbestos products that still pose a risk at present. However, more than 3000 products were manufactured with asbestos (source: National Asbestos Profile Germany, page 7), which were installed in public and private buildings until the respective national ban (in Germany 1993). These include floor coverings, their adhesives, plasters, fillers, tile adhesives, bituminous roofing membranes, screeds, leveling compounds for floor leveling, asphalts and sealants, and many more. Although these products generally contain smaller quantities of asbestos (in percent by mass) than fiber cement, they are believed to have been used in more than half of all properties built in Germany between 1960 and 1990. In addition, asbestos-containing products were installed in the majority of all renovated buildings during this period.
"It is estimated that by the time asbestos is generally banned in 1993, asbestos building products are likely to be encountered in all buildings." (Source: National Asbestos Profile Germany, page 56)
In our experience, the fiber cement mentioned in the documentary is now recognized with a high probability even by laypersons. Due to the general ban on covering, which explicitly mentions fiber cement, it is largely impossible to build over roof surfaces containing asbestos, e.g. with solar installations, because the corresponding craftsmen consistently implement the ban on covering.
Unfortunately, we notice almost daily that almost all other trades (tilers, plumbers, electricians, etc.) in Germany have considerable difficulties in recognizing the health hazards to employees from asbestos and in carrying out the corresponding legally required tests before construction work begins. Accordingly, the number of illnesses remains high to this day, even 30 years after the national ban on asbestos was enacted.
"Overall, asbestos-related diseases accounted for 63 % of all occupational disease deaths. This trend has been relatively constant in recent years. It is expected to continue in the coming years." (2017 = 1630 deaths) (Chapter 9, page 37).
In addition to professional tradespeople, amateur tradespeople, and do-it-yourselfers are also at risk. This group accounts for an additional 30 % to 50 % of deaths after asbestos exposure.
"The cancer registry shows approximately 30 % to 50 % higher case rates for mesothelioma compared to case rates for fatal occupational diseases due to mesothelioma. The reasons for this have not yet been elucidated. One possible cause could be relevant non-occupational asbestos exposure." (Chapter 9, page 40)
Mind you, these figures refer to Germany, a country that has one of the strictest occupational health and safety laws in the world. Nevertheless, due to ignorance and lack of knowledge, asbestos poses a ubiquitous hazard to people. While there were 3180 deaths on the roads in Germany in 2017 - a figure that gets a lot of media coverage every year - 2120 people died from asbestos, according to the data provided above. These deaths are not worthy of press coverage and do not appear in the documentary you broadcast on the subject of asbestos. While the number of traffic fatalities decreases from year to year under media illumination, the number of asbestos deaths per year is expected to remain constant. However, this is not reported.
This discrepancy in media exposure is neither understandable nor reasonable.
We have a great interest in raising public awareness of the asbestos issue. In addition to the obvious economic interests of our company, however, we are primarily driven by the fight against sheer ignorance in large sections of the companies and the general public. We are networked with samplers and training providers in the field of asbestos as well as national and international supervisory authorities (Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV, Germany; SUVA, Switzerland). Unfortunately, we have few contacts in France that we could offer for further research.
If you are interested in documenting the topic of asbestos and its societal impact in Europe in more detail, we would be happy to offer our support through expertise and contacts.
With kind regards
CRB Analyse Service GmbH"
From our professional point of view, important facts and aspects are too short or missing completely in the documentation. Nevertheless, it is worth taking a look at. Get your own impression: You can watch the documentary here in the Arte-Mediathek.
As described in our film review, the topic of asbestos deserves much more and more differentiated media attention. You are a filmmaker or editor and need support in illuminating the topic of asbestos from a professional, scientific perspective? We would be happy to advise you! Simply get in touch with us by phone or via our contact form.