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EC gets tough with Ireland's ongoing asbestos abuse

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The European Commission has lost patience with the Irish government in a dispute over its anti- pollution regulations, in particular over removing asbestos from buildings. It will now launch a case at the European Court of Justice.

Last year Dublin promised Brussels it would reform its rules in line with the eu Asbestos Directive, after the commission issued a Reasoned Opinion - a formal note threatening legal action at the court. But no reforms have yet been passed and the commission has decided to go to the court, which has the power to order the Irish Republic to comply and impose substantial recurring fines of around £100,000-a-day if it refuses. The commission claims that although existing Irish health and safety law gives some measure of protection to construction workers, it 'fails to adequately address environmental risks in asbestos removal' to the general public.

Directive 87/217/eec says eu member states must ensure that 'the demolition of buildings, structures and installations containing asbestos and the removal of asbestos or materials containing asbestos ... do not cause significant asbestos environmental pollution.'

eu environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom said: 'This case shows that protecting human health and caring for the environment are twin objectives which go hand-in-hand.'

A spokeswoman for Ireland's department of labour, trade and consumer affairs said that a regulation that would satisfy the commission was being considered by Ireland's Attorney General.

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