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Notes on asbestos

Marco Louters

Last update: March 31st, 2022 | Read time: 20 minutes

Asbest Chrysotiel Amosiet Crocidoliet Mesothelioom

Marco Louters

Last update: March 31st, 2022
Read time: 20 minutes

From 2019 to sometime into 2021, I was the owner of Solar Vikings, a company that installed solar panels, primarily on corporate roofs.

As an owner of a solar panel installation company, you are obliged to know a couple of things about asbestos. After all, you have staff working on roofs that you are responsible for.

In addition, the subject of asbestos naturally comes up in a conversation at some point anyway. Believe me, you will want to know what you’re talking about.

1. What exactly is asbestos? Six types

First of all, asbestos is a natural product; a fibrous crystallisation consisting of several minerals. Like iron ore and gold, asbestos is extracted from a mine. In the United States, for example, about 140 asbestos mines have been active (the first major one opened in 1894).

The collective term asbestos actually includes 6 different types, divided into 2 categories: serpentine and amphiboles. 

Overview of the six types of asbestos: serpentine and amphibole

Of the 6 types of asbestos, only 3 have been of commercial interest: chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. These are also the 3 types that have been widely used in the Netherlands.

Chrysotile is the most widely used and produced asbestos: 90 to 95%. This is a windfall, because chrysotile is the least harmful variety. It is also the type most commonly produced in Europe, especially in mines in Italy, Greece, and Cyprus.

The amphibole amosite and crocidolite are therefore only 5 to 10% of the asbestos used. Crocidolite can be found all over the earth’s crust in ferrous rock. The largest deposists were in North-West Cape, Pietersburg in South Africa, and in the Wittenoom region in western Australia.

The rare grey asbestos, tremolite, was hardly produced, but mainly in Finland between 1918 and 1975. It was sometimes used in kit.

2. Overview of natural asbestos locations

In the image below, I have created a map of countries where asbestos has been found in the ground. This map is based on data from the website Mindat.org.

Not every location actually had an active asbestos mine.

    Asbestos - World Map Natural Asbestos Resources

    The asbestos amosite is actually an acronym for Asbestos Mines oSouth Africa.

    3. The ghost town of Wittenoom

    Between the 1930s and 1966, approximately 7,000 people worked in the blue asbestos mines of Wittenoom. The region had the largest deposits of crocidolite in Australia, and a veritable city was built around the asbestos mines.

    Crocidolite is the most dangerous type of asbestos, of which one inhaled fiber can already start the growth of a tumor.

    In 1966 the area was closed, completely littered with microscopic crocidolite fibers. The place is widely considred the most polluted place in the southern hemisphere. In 2007, the city lost its official status and the name was removed from maps and road signs. It was also disconnected from the electricity grid.

    Kind of bizarre; a few people continued to live there for some time.

    Even more bizarre; the region is still visited by relatively many tourists. With pride, because the pictures are also posted on Instagram; #wittenoom.

    4. Benefits of asbestos

    In the past, asbestos was seen as a wonderful material. By some, in fact, it still is. And once you’ve read this paragraph, you’ll at least get it. What a wonder material…


      • Good insulating material.
      • It conducts no heat and no electricity.
      • Strong and abrasion resistant.
      • Fire resistant.
      • Resistant to aggressive chemicals.
      • Cheap.


    Because it’s a fireproof material, gloves and other clothing made of asbestos fibers were worn by firefighters. Similarly, asbestos was used for fire curtains in theaters.

    In the 20th century, people also began mixing asbestos with cement, used as building and insulation material. Among other things, this mix was used in pipes for the transportation of drinking water.

    Furthermore, it was widely used in brake linings, brake pads, and clutches in cars.

    5. When is asbestos dangerous?

    When you look at the safety of asbestos already in use, an important factor is whether or not it is bonded. That is, the asbestos fibers are tightly bound in material into which it is incorporated.

    Suppose you have asbestos in your corrugated roof. As long as nothing happens to it, there is little to worry about. Only when the material breaks, or is pierced, or ripped off, or sawed off, etc., can the asbestos fibers be released.

    Then it becomes dangerous.

    Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause long-term asbestosis (dust lung), lung cancer, or mesothelioma (lung- or peritoneal cancer). In fact, mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of cancer. It kills people just a few months after diagnosis.


      • It has been known since the early 1900s that asbestos can cause asbetosis.
      • By the 1950s, the link between asbestos and lung cancer was clear.
      • Since the 1960s, the link to mesothelioma was also clear.

    Amphibole asbestos more dangerous than chrysotile

    Amphibole asbestos, such as blue and brown asbestos, poses a much greater health risk than white asbestos. It makes a difference that the white variety is less harmful, because we all breathe that in every day anyway. I’ll tell you more about this later.

    Mesothelioma is another word for asbestos cancer.

    According to research, only amphibole asbestos causes mesothelioma. 70 to 80% of all mesothelioma cases are diagnosed in people who have been in contact with this type. The occurrences where chrysotile was found to be involved were impure chrysotile, which also contained traces of tremolite (gray asbestos).

    Pure chrysotile does not cause mesothelioma, although it can contribute to asbestosis and lung cancer. Chrysotile fibers dissolve relatively quickly in lung tissue; in less than a year. Amphibole fibers do not.

    A few figures on asbestos cancer

    ▪️ More than 500 Dutch people died of mesothelioma in 2018.

    ▪️ The disease is much more common in men than in women.

    ▪️ In men it is ~85 – 90% work related. In women it is about 30%.

    ▪️ 75% of cases occur after the age of 65. This is because it can take up to 40 years before the cancer occurs after inhalation of asbestos fibers.

    ▪️ We expect more than 9.000 asbestos-related deaths in the Netherlands by 2035.

    ▪️ 1 fiber of amphibole asbestos can already cause cancer.

    ▪️ The total number of deaths caused by amphibole asbestos is estimated at 255.000 in Western Europe alone.

    Asbestos fibers are much more likely to cause lung cancer in smokers than in non-smokers. It is estimated that 33% of all asbestos-related lung cancers could be avoided if asbestos workers did not smoke.

    6. We breathe in asbestos every day

    We inhale about 2 to 3.5 million large asbestos fibers each year.

    The number of small asbestos fibers is ten times greater still. Yet the average lifespan of us Dutch is high. So these amounts of fibers in the air are so small that the risk of cancer is negligible.

    However, people who worked in the asbestos industry came into contact with asbestos levels that were as much as 200 to 4,000 times higher than those in normal outdoor air. This could also be the case at busy traffic locations, such as major downtown intersections, due to asbestos fibers released from car and truck brake linings.

    You might now think: “All of this asbestos got into the air because of human hands! We’ve ruined the world forever!”

    But, then you are jumping to a conclusion a little too quickly. Remember, asbestos is a natural product. There was also an interesting study done on asbestos on island in the Pacific.

    On these particular island, no asbestos is found on the surface of the earth’s crust. They are also far from any industrialized country. Yet even there, asbestos fibers were found in the air (about 10 small asbestos fibers per liter of air).

    One step further then. A study at the South Pole. One liter of snow contained 20,000 asbestos fibers. Even snow several thousand years old – extracted from drill cores – was found to contain these fibers.

    All of the above examples involve chrysotile fibers. These fibers spread very easily over enormous distances through weather and wind.

    Because amphibole fibers split differently than chrysotile, they are not transported very far from the source by wind. As a result, we fortunately do not find these fibers all over the world. Unfortunately Australia is one country that does have large areas of crocidolite (Wittenoom region). It is also the country with the highest number of people infected with mesothelioma worldwide.

    7. Countries deal with asbestos differently

    Despite all the – by now strongly known – health dangers posed by asbestos, countries have to date dealt with this fibrous material in very different ways. By the beginning of 2020, 55 countries will have a ban on asbestos. These countries are marked in green on the map below.

    Countries where asbestos is a forbidden product - Map (WEB) (ENG)

    Banned or legal?

    Opponents of asbestos would prefer to see an asbestos-free world. Unfortunately, that is technically impossible.

    However, its production and use can be banned, at least to avoid the large amounts of asbestos fibers in the air from human activity.

    Still, that vision seems a long way off, given that there is a great deal of disagreement about asbestos nationwide. For example, China, the United States, and Russia still use asbestos in abundance.

    Although the Untited States has now closed all its asbestos mines, it continues to import asbestos in large quantities from overseas. Russia calmly continues production.

    By now, the U.S. and China have a complete ban on amphibole asbestos. Chrysotile, however, remains completely legal.

    The European Union has had a ban on asbestos in place since 2005. However, despite the fact that all member states must comply with this ban, for some it is questioned as to whether they fully comply with and enforce the ban. These countries are marked in yellow in the overview map above.

    The African continent had three countries that produced asbestos; South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland. In 2003, the last asbestos mine in South Africa closed. Since then, the other two countries have also stopped production.

    Map of countries that produced Asbestos in Africa

    Products from China containing asbestos

    It is quite common for products imported from China to be found to contain asbestos, such as children’s makeup, building materials, and toys. Often these goods are not checked for asbestos at the border.

    This check is left by the NVWA and Inspectorate ILT to companies that import the products. As the saying goes: a butcher inspecting his own meat.

    Of course, there is also the rice of webshops, and dropshipping. The consumer can now order something directly from China, without the intervention of a European company. In short, all supervision falls away.

    By the way, in China, if something contains less than 10% asbestos, it is considred ‘asbestos-free’.

    Sluggishness in action

    Although Europe is strongly in the lead of banning asbestos and its removal from our society, there is an aura of sluggishness surrounding asbestos.

    And it has always been there.

    Already in the early 20th century, we knew about the health problems caused by large amounts of inhaled asbestos fibers. You would think that something would be done about it pretty quickly.

    It wasn’t until 1931 that the first restrictive measure came, in Britain. Amazingly, that same country voted against a total ban on asbestos in 1999.

    See in the overview below the development of rules concerning asbestos in the western world.

    Timeline asbestos regulations Netherlands
    1977: Asbestos Decree: Spraying Asbestos is banned. As well as crocidolite and its processing and sale. Work-protection regulations were introduced for the machining and processing of other types of asbestos.
    1988: Asbestos Decree of 1977 is replaced by the Asbestos Decree of the Working Conditions Act. Stricter rules were introduced to protect employees.
    1991: Revision of the Asbestos Decree. New rules for demolition work and an exemption regulation for work for which the regulations are impracticable.
    1993: Prohibition to use asbestos as a material. Drilling, repairs, maintenance work, demoltion, and removal remains permitted.
    1994: Asbestos is a prohibited raw material.
    2015: Decision: Asbestos roofs will be banned from 2024 onwards.
    2016: A first dubsidy has been launched to stimulate the asbestos removal process, with a maximum of €75,000,000. One could receive a subsidy of €4,50 per square metre of asbestos, with a maximum of €25,000 per location.
    2018: The ceiling of the 2016 subsidy was reached. A new subsidy would start in 2019. It never came.
    2019: The entry into force of the ban on asbestos roofs was first postponed until 2028 in May. On June 4th, the Senate voted against the ban on asbestos roofs. 
    Timeline asbestos regulations EU
    1991: Crocidolite and Amosite banned in all Member States.
    1999: Eight EU Member States had a total ban on asbestos. Three countries (Great Britain, Ireland, and Luxembourg) are in favor. Spain, Portugal, and Greece oppose the ban for scientific and technical reasons.
    2015: Asbestos is a banned raw material within the European Union.
    Timeline asbestos regulations US
    1973: Asbestos is regulated under the “Clean Air Act”, as one of the first carcinogens. Spraying asbestos was banned. This is non-adhesive blue asbestos.
    1986: The EPA – Environmental Protection Agency was mandated by US Congress to protect schoolchildren and their teachers from the dangers of small amounts of asbestos. Huge amounts were spent. It often turned out that there was more asbestos in the air in schools after remediation than before. Improper removal does more harm than good.
    1989: The EPA attempted to pass a law prohibiting the production, import, processing, and distribution of asbestos, so that asbestos containing products had to be phased out from 1990 to 1996.
    1991: The EPA’s attempt to ban asbestos was finally defeated by the rich asbestos industry in 1991.
    1993: The last asbestos mine was closed. However, the US continued to import a great deal of asbestos-containing products. Imports were about 7 times greater than exports.
    2007: “The Ban Asbestos in America Act” was raised. This never became law.
    2008: Another proposal: “Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act”. Didn’t become law.
    2019: Asbestos is and can still be used legally, although in much lower quantities than before.


    It is unfortunate that there is no unity of action. Each country has its own view of asbestos and the six different types. But even within countries themselves there is no consistent, efficient, and effective handling of asbestos. Just look at the amount of wasted years; the largest in the U.S..

    In the Netherlands we also couldn’t create a clear vision. In 1994 it became clear that any form of asbestos can cause health problems and the raw material was banned from that year onwards. Then, for 21 years, it was virtually silent.

    Wear and tear of roofs is seen as a possible danger. Asbestos roofs must disappear from the Netherlands. Good that there will be a subsidy. It is soon clear that this subsidy is not enough. The year 2019 is a lost year. Where is that consistency to continue with the decision that was made in 2015?

    First, a little bit about asbestos removal. Then I’ll wrap it up with a personal look at this issue.

    8. Asbestos removal

    Of course it is best to consult official sources for the most recent and complete information.

    Nevertheless, in this section I describe the situation surrounding asbestos removal in the Netherlands and possible subsidies, so that I can better argue my position below.

    Basic points about asbestos removal

    As long as asbestos fibers are firmly attached, in the corrugated roof or a window sill, for example, there is little to worry about. But of course you can never be sure if that is the case. Wear and tear is a fact of life, especially on a roof that has to deal with wind and weather every day.

    This is why it was decided in 2016 that asbestos roofs must be removed anyway. With other materials, it may be that the situation is safe for now, but a plan must be put in place to ensure that the situation remains safe in the future.

    You may be allowed to remove the asbestos yourself, provided you have filed a demolition notice with the municipality. Removing it yourself is not allowed by law if:

    ▪️ the roof is larger than 35 m²,

    ▪️ there are slates on the roof,

    ▪️ you have to demolish asbestos-containing material,

    ▪️ etc.

    Then you will have to call in a certified asbestos company.

    You will have to pay for the asbestos removal yourself. Therefore, sometimes it is smart to do the remediation together with your neighbors. Unfortunately, the subsidy scheme for the removal of asbestos roofs was closed as of December 15, 2018 because the budget of € 75 million was reached.

    The government does (not) help you with your asbestos roof

    After the ceiling was reached in 2018 on the asbestos abatement subsidy set up in 2016, there was talk of a new scheme in 2019. Unfortunately, this did not materialize.

    Meanwhile, the idea was raised to start up a special loan, which people could take out in order to be able to replace their asbestos roof. This would be created in 2020. The question is whether it will come to pass.

    In the meantime, I expect there to be less asbestos removed in 2019 than in 2018, given that there are no more subsidies, except perhaps a municipal “Asbestos off, solar panels on.” However, many government agencies – including municipalities – believe that this cost should fall on the citizen.

    Senate votes against ban

    It was clear that getting rid of all asbestos roofs by 2024 would be tight. But even a deadline of 2028 (with a few exceptions to 2030) was not considered broad enough by the Senate.

    Many senators fear that it will be impossible and unaffordable for many people to replace their roofs before that date. They would also like to see the renovation linked to a logical moment, such as making the house more sustainable.

    Asbestos Removal Subsidy results

    In 2019, there was still about 80 to 90 million m² of asbestos roof in the Netherlands. In the graph below you can see the amount of m² asbestos removed per year. In 2018, this was 12 million m².

    As seems clear, the asbestos removal subsidy in 2016 helped a lot; three million m² more were removed in 2016 than in 2015.

    Hoeveelheid verwijderde asbest in Nederland

    9. My take on asbestos

    Wouldn’t we prefer to get rid of the whole asbestos thing as soon as possible, so we can close the whole issue once and for all?

    In the Netherlands, asbestos has been a banned material since 1994. Yet according to the Senate, 2028 is too short a day to get the whole country asbestos-free. People knew from 2015 that in 9 years (and later 13 years) asbestos roofs would be banned.

    There are enough companies to do the job of ~90 million m² asbestos removal. The intended problem is mainly economic. For many people it would not be financially feasible. The cost would be too high.

    Part of the reason for the higher cost of asbestos removal is that, by law, it often has to be done by a certified company. Understandable, because improper removal significantly increases the number of asbestos fibers in the air.

    Think of the problem in the US in 1986. You might think, “Either remove properly or don’t remove at all,” but it’s not that easy either, because if the material can wear out – like roofs over the years due to weather – more asbestos fibers will end up in the air.

    Financial calculations & incentives

    Indoor asbestos is often more expensive to remove than outdoors. Let’s discuss the case of the remaining 100,000 residential buildings. Homedeal.nl describes 3 example situations, and their average costs including VAT.

      • Shed with corrugated sheets of 3 x 3 meters: € 675
      • Three rooms up to 50m²: € 1,400
      • Entire house: rises to € 20,000

    Then there are the asbestos inventory costs of an average of € 650 per inventory.

    Let’s look at the costs of € 20,000. Suppose you decide to replace your roof in 2022. You knew in 2015 that you needed to replace your roof, so you’ve had 7 years to save up. The entire project costs € 20,675. So assuming 84 months (7 years), you should have put aside ~ €246 per month (not including inflation). That is quite a lot.

    First there was a subsidy. One could get € 4.50 subsidy per m² asbestos, with a maximum of € 25,000 per location. In addition, there were programs such as “asbestos off, solar panels on.” So we were able to remove quite a bit of asbestos in the years ’16, ’17 and ’18.

    Although we are not finished, it is done with the financial incentives. Why? Why is there a lack of decisiveness in pushing forward with the plan to tackle “the last major source of asbestos for the environment”?

    2019 is a lost year.

    There was talk of a new grant starting in 2019. This new subsidy should have started almost immediately after the ceiling was reached in 2018. If necessary, other measures / incentives instead of the same type of subsidy.

    With an interim year, momentum is lost.

    People who want to remove their asbestos roof in 2019 will not be eligible for anything from the government. I am very curious what the numbers are on asbestos removal in 2019.

    Not everyone can set aside € 246 per month for 7 years to get their asbestos roof cleaned up. But why do people have to take on the full 100% of the cost themselves? Are they to blame for having a banned asbestos roof?

    It was known for years that asbestos (possibly even chrysotile) could cause health problems. I don’t think that a deadbeat citizen should be responsible for doing their own deep research into any deadly substances in the building material that contractors use to build a house for them. That should be taken up nationwide (or even European). For my part, the Dutch State is partly financially responsible for the removal of asbestos roofs.

    At the same time, I also think that the Dutch State does not have to take on the full 100% of the costs. In fact, the citizen himself receives the following benefits: a renewed roof and removal of carcinogenic asbestos (and thus less health risks in the house).

    Meanwhile (4th quarter 2019), there is also talk of a fund, where people can borrow money under special conditions to be able to remediate their asbestos roof.

    This fund should be active until 2028 to maximize the realization of voluntary remediation. After 2028, people can no longer take out a loan through this fund. In this way, government members who were in favor of the deadline in 2028, still try to remove as many asbestos roofs as possible in the shortest possible time.

    Senate vs. an asbestos-free Netherlands

    This title is not entirely fair. And yet it is.

    The majority of the Senate, in fact, endorses the ultimate goal: “an asbestos-safe living environment.” But if that is so, why has the deadline on asbestos roofs been crossed out in its entirety? It hasn’t even been delayed by 20 years…. It just doesn’t exist anymore. There is no deadline!

    The Senate felt that it would not be financially feasible for the average Dutch person to have their asbestos roof cleaned up in time. There were questions about the timely availability of a new fund, the broadening of the market, and whether there was enough time to link the remediation to a logical moment (eg in combination with installing solar panels).

    In short, the law that should ban asbestos roofs in 2024 (and even 2028 (and even gives municipalities the possibility to grant a postponement until 2030 at the latest)) has too many snags. As a result, the law did not pass. Despite many additional attempts and concessions from the House of Representatives.

    The ball is now in the court of the citizens themselves. They must decide for themselves whether and when they want to remove their asbestos roof. The government can no longer ban asbestos roofs, only discourage.

    A deadline ensures decisiveness. Without a clear deadline, the current joint approach cannot be maintained. Why would people who already did not want to clean up their roofs, start doing so now? Apart from the fact that there was already no financial compensation, the necessary external pressure has now disappeared. Without a deadline, there is little or no encouragement to take steps. It is now entirely up to the voluntariness of the citizen.

    Asbestos roofs greater danger than e.g. smoking?

    It is impossible to make the Netherlands asbestos-free. Asbestos is in the air by default. However, we should want to avoid increasing the number of asbestos fibers in the air. Roofs are sensitive to wear and tear. It is also the largest source of asbestos in the Netherlands.

    There are people who think that the dangers of chrysotile are weighed too heavily. Compared to smoking and current traffic safety, asbestos claims far fewer lives per year. They feel that the cost put into asbestos remediation is far too high in relation to the effect. That money would be better spent on anti-smoking programs and traffic safety.

    While you can also be a danger to both yourself and others in traffic, this is simply also the case with asbestos roofs. Less so with smoking. Suppose you have the choice of keeping your asbestos roof or having it cleaned up, and the health risks are entirely yours. Then, for my part, there is no problem. You are putting your own health at risk; not that of others. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Your neighbor’s dilapidated asbestos roof can give you health problems too.

    And so I think the government should have a hand in this to reduce/eliminate this health risk; even if it costs fewer deaths per year than smoking.

    Border Control

    As made clear in this blog, there are still plenty of countries that make full use of asbestos. China is one of them.

    Zondag met Lubach released an episode a few weeks ago about Chinese online stores, such as AliExpress and Wish. Among other things, that episode dealt with carcinogenic phthalates in toy dolls. Although asbestos was not mentioned in the episode, it can therefore regularly happen that asbestos is found in ordered products. In this way, asbestos can enter your life (or that of your children) unnoticed.

    The NVWA appears to be aware of this problem. And yet the NVWA and the Inspectorate for the Environment and Transport (ILT) often only come into action when there is a signal from outside that something is wrong with a product. What is the use of such an organization?

    An example… There was a signal from America where it was discovered that asbestos fibers were present in makeup products of Claire’s. The NVWA was already long aware of these results, but only took action after a broadcast of EenVandaag.

    The NVWA and ILT leave the control of products to companies that import the products. From the above story it is clear that this approach is not good enough.

    A couple of ideas

    ▪️ We as a European Union as a whole should remove asbestos as much as possible from our member states and act as one force in this area towards countries that export asbestos to us unnoticed. The NVWA and ILT should take an active stance on border control.

    ▪️ Once again there must be a ban on asbestos roofs, with a deadline set for 2030. To meet this deadline, the government must make a financial contribution.

    ▪️ Citizens cannot be made responsible to take 100% of the cost of asbestos removal on themselves. This should move towards 50% government / 50% citizen. In addition, the previously discussed fund should also be made available for citizens who cannot possibly bear the 50% cost themselves.

    ▪️ As is already the case, for other bonded asbestos-containing materials (such as a windowsill or wall) a safety plan and plan of approach should be constructed, so that it can be removed safely in the future.

    ▪️ There should be no VAT on asbestos removal.

    ▪️ Let’s invest and remediate painfully for another 10 years, so that by 2030 we can finally close the book on asbestos for the most part.

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