Asbestos and climate change: the unexpected link by Francisco Báez Baquet 

Posted on July 6, 2018

By Francisco Báez Baquet

In recent times, the media of my country (Spain) have been lavish in news related to climate change in some way, referring to intense heat waves, alternating with formidable storms, accompanied by all sorts of factors determining the increase in its intensity: torrential rains, strong winds, hail, floods and overflows, etc.

Localities and areas of the country, which, except for this type of events, would hardly make an appearance in the media, their respective names are inscribed in said media, as a consequence of these meteorological events: Mountain range of Albarracín, region of the river Jiloca , Mountain range of Gúdar, Region of The Maestrazgo, Mountain range of San Vicente, Valley of the Tajo river, District of The Alcarria, Lagoons and Moorlands of Manor of Molina, Alagón (capital of the High River bank of the River Ebro Region), District of The Villuercas, Mountain range of Montánchez, etc., etc.

On the occasion of such events, both the pages of newspapers and the screens of our televisions have been invaded, relatively frequently, by images that correspond to the graphic summary of each meteorological event. Among them, those that come to show the devastating effects of the passage of hurricane winds, floods and intense hailstorms.

The eyes of the prevented spectator, have been able to notice, how, in such images proliferate those that record breaks of covers of all kinds, including those made with asbestos-cement plates, the popularly known as “uralitas” or “uralite” sheetings.

It would seem that such prodigality in this type of images, is conditioned, first, by the past enthusiasm in our country, in times ranging from the dictatorship to the democratic transition, and that is, in fact, enough, for example, with a careful look through the window of a commuter train to a large city, to see before our eyes, along the route, the abundant images of ancient covered with “uralita”, apparently intact, and other do not.

And it is that, in fact, another important determinant of so much abundance of broken “uralitas” is, apart from climate change, its coincidence with the end of the useful life of such constructive elements, which are characterized by an increasing fragility, determined by the increasing degree of crystallization of the cement with which, together with asbestos, are manufactured.

It is in this situation of rupture, where the condition of friability is manifested in all its power, determining the risk of inhaling the asbestos fibers in suspension in the atmosphere, in concentrations that in the case of mesothelioma may be enough to trigger it, and cumulatively, with less probability, they can also be determinants of other pathologies equally related to exposure to asbestos, including non-work, as would be the case.

The Spanish legislation, which in its day established the prohibition of asbestos in Spain, determines its withdrawal in safety conditions, at the end of its useful life; but it is evident that this term will never be abrupt, and that therefore, this withdrawal must be undertaken before the condition of obsolescence has already been able to manifest itself, through repeated “spontaneous” breaks.

It is obvious, for anyone who fortuitously is not blind, that the everyday reality that we can contemplate, does not respond, neither little nor much, to that scheme of precautions, which could possibly have been present in the mind of the legislator, but which, in any case, it was not left in the concrete provisions of the legal text.

It is the conjunction of this state of affairs, with the aforementioned situation, of intense meteorological manifestations, correctly attributed to global climate change, which determines the abundance of  breakages of the old “uralitas”, lashed by strong winds, or perforated by the hail, collapses, or broken by the pressure of water mobilized by storms. Predictably, in the more immediate future, such situations do nothing but increase. Therefore, this environmental and hygienic problem will only grow.

In the situations that the television or journalistic images show us, the action of the SEPRONA («Service of Nature Protection») of the Civil Guard (gendarmerie) is decisive for the reconduction of the same towards a security remediation; but, in any case, the initiative and interest of the respective municipal authorities is fundamental. Interest that may eventually be needed, perhaps, of the political opposition, and / or the respective local environmental groups.

A perverse political logic prevails in our country, for all issues, including asbestos, according to which, the surest way to not remedy a real and pressing problem, is that any of the political parties of the opposition make a proposal in this regard, ahead of others with your initiative.

This being a reiterated empirical finding, if the circumstance occurs that it is not the exercising authorities that are first assumed by the initiative before the problem, it can be guaranteed, with full certainty, that inaction is assured.

No better perspective can be expected, if it is the consumer defense organizations, or those in defense of the environment, public health, or those defending the rights of asbestos victims, which promote such initiatives. However, of course, they must continue to be formulated. It is precisely this lack of effective response, the greatest incentive so that the just demands do not fall.

In spite of the aforementioned, a certain proportion of successes can be expected, if it is the action of denunciation conveyed by those associations that operate under the general stamp of expressions such as “Asbestos Zero” or “Zero Asbestos”, which, for its monothematic specificity, and for its good work, achieve positive results, and in any case superior to those of others … let’s say that united by international glory, for its spectacular and circus activism, which is not that on, provided that coherence.

When these successes materialize, the succession scheme of the facts is the following: first there is a public denunciation in the media, eventually with the manifest adhesion of some of the municipal opposition parties; then the local authorities concerned react, demanding ownership of the property affected by the problem, the more or less immediate correction of it, by appropriate means and in accordance with the legislation in force on the dismantling and removal of materials containing asbestos, as it is the case of the covers formed by the damaged “uralitas”.

The serious inconvenience, however, has all this, is that today most of the national territory does not have effective coverage, with possibilities of displacement, inspections on the ground and call for local media, etc., by part of such type of environmental organizations, although, fortunately, that coverage is progressively increasing, albeit slowly, because it is not easy to have a volunteer willing to the organizational effort and effective militancy that involves the creation of this type of associations “non profit”.

The increased risk inherent in installed asbestos, assumes a close link with situations of physical violence in things, such as those of a war nature, or those associated with natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, or those that presuppose a link with climate change anthropogenic, as is the case of atypical hurricanes, torrential rains of increasing intensity and frequency, strong hail, floods and overflows, etc.

Therefore, if there has always been a need for an effective elimination of installed asbestos and in adequate conditions of safety in its execution, this demand that the care of the environment and public health demand, now, in view of that perspective propitiated by the activity itself human, its implementation is more justified than ever.

Do not be deceived: the extent of the damage caused and the corresponding risk is not determined by the damage already caused in the asbestos-cement roofs, but, with a not insignificant probability, by the anarchic and illegal way in which these damaged covers may end up being knocked down, without any hygienic precautions, and all this caused by the aforementioned accidental damage.

Those who show contempt for the risk thus generated, do not have that to be prudent. His action will no longer have a brake, if no one remedies it, than that of the own exhaustion and culmination of the destructive task undertaken.

If, in general terms, the individuals assumed their responsibilities for this type of problems, for that at least, there would be more than SEPRONA, there would be more than the action of the respective town councils, and there would be, finally, the aforementioned environmental associations, which have been created for something: because, obviously, in our society this situation of generalized responsibility does not occur, but quite the contrary, unfortunately.

In the case of SEPRONA, and by its very nature, it is normal that its actions inevitably develop to “past bull” and when the evil is already completed, often in its entirety, and that action is directed, preferably, to the sanctioning aspect and punitive.

Although it is true that all the projected efforts to alleviate the harmful effects of climate change will always be worthy of praise, however, it is no less true that, with regard to the issue addressed here, such efforts, which would foreseeably be implemented  in the most optimistic of assumptions, with some parsimony, and that, at the same time, Nature’s response to such human efforts, it is not reasonable to expect them to be effective in the short term, for all these reasons it can reasonably be inferred that It must be in this way through which the foreseeable negative consequences of our neglect can be solved or mitigated when we have undertaken the elimination of asbestos installed in our country. Therefore, only from its effective implementation, we can expect a true remediation of the problem.


The Climate Change determines the increase in violence of extreme events of the weather, such as hurricane winds, intense hailstorms, floods and overflows, etc. The age of the asbestos-cement roofs that still remain installed in our country, determines that they are practically at the end of their useful life, in a state of crystallization of cement, of obsolescence and consequent fragility, which determines that they are extremely prone to fragment, bringing asbestos, which was encapsulated and mixed with the cement of the “uralite” sheets, acceding to the condition of friability, determining the release to the atmosphere, of the very dangerous microscopic fibrils that constitute the called “respirable fraction”, whose inhalation is a necessary condition to be able to determine a retention of the same by the respiratory system, and the consequent risk of upwelling of asbestos-related pathologies, especially with regard to mesothelioma, which is the malignant pathology that to emerge it is enough with lower doses.

The combination of both factors – Climate Change and obsolescence of asbestos installed on the roofs – determine the urgent need for a national plan to eliminate installed asbestos, which faces the correct solution (not generating greater risks) of this important environmental problem and public health. We urge the competent authorities to undertake this task as soon as possible, and to the ecologist associations, to demand it vigorously and with the necessary insistence and reiteration necessary, so that this goal can be achieved, for the benefit of all.

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.