english – Interview with a specialist lawyer: "There are persistent myths about asbestos in pipes"

In an interview with the RSV, specialist lawyer Victoria von Minnigerode dispels frequently quoted myths - from the inadmissibility of "life-prolonging" measures to the question of a fundamental ban on overlapping coverage and the much-discussed obligation to expand.

Mrs von Minnigerode, we are repeatedly told that maintenance of an asbestos cement sewer could be a life-prolonging measure. Why is that?

This term is used in the context of a legal opinion from Bavaria, which has since been rejected, which assumed that the REACH Regulation prohibited life-extending measures on equipment containing asbestos. It has since been recognised that the wording of the laws does not actually refer to a "life extension", but to the "end of useful life". This is by no means the same thing. The assumption that life-prolonging measures are legally inadmissible and should therefore be rejected across the board is simply incorrect according to the current legal situation. For underground pipelines made of asbestos cement, this means that lining methods, for example, are perfectly permissible under certain conditions, even if they may extend the operational life of a pipe. Unfortunately, some misinformation also persists among the responsible authorities and other parties involved, which not only leads to considerable delays in planned projects, but also to a high degree of uncertainty.

What about the ban on overlapping coverage, which also comes up time and again?

The current version of the Hazardous Substances Ordinance prohibits overlap, overbuilding and coating work on asbestos cement roofs and wall panelling. This is a passage that explicitly refers to wall and ceiling panelling in order to protect clients and contractors in engineering, surface construction from working on harmful building materials without realising it. This paragraph does not apply to all other building materials and installations - including pipelines. In the past, it was sometimes assumed that lining processes were possibly unauthorised due to this regulation. However, this is also misinformation that has since been corrected by the responsible authorities.

What is the current state of affairs? Does the new Hazardous Substances Ordinance already apply?

A revision of the Hazardous Substances Ordinance has been under discussion for some time. An initial draft was published in spring 2022 - the last revised version of the draft published by the Federal Ministry of Labour dates from March 2023. As far as I know, the amendment was actually supposed to be launched after the summer break. However, there are still decisive points of criticism and a need for improvement - especially with regard to the differentiation between asbestos in existing buildings and in underground installations. One can only hope that a revision of the latest draft version is the cause of the current delays.

What would it mean for local authorities, utilities and wastewater network operators if the Hazardous Substances Ordinance were to be adopted as it is currently planned?

Despite all the well-intentioned regulations, which are intended to make clients and installation companies more accountable and thus serve the protection of labour, the current draft of the amendment raises more questions than it provides answers when dealing with underground pipes. The regulations are designed for existing buildings. Whether and to what extent they can be applied to the decommissioning, passivation or maintenance of buried pipelines urgently needs to be clarified. In my opinion, the Hazardous Substances Ordinance should take account of the fact that underground pipes, for the sewer renovation of which low-emission procedures are available, do not pose a hazard comparable to that of asbestos in existing buildings. The dangerous release of fibres into the air we breathe is prevented by leaving them in the soil. Apart from the fact that legislation at European level does not provide for a removal obligation, practicable solutions should be found in view of the financial situation of local authorities and the limited landfill capacities. There is, of course, no question that comprehensive documentation of the pipes is essential.

What about the validity of low-emission procedures for pipelines in accordance with TRGS 519, which have been in force for years in the protection of labour and which the RSV also strives for?

In my opinion, the current draft of the amendment does not adequately address this issue. The currently planned regulations leave too much room for interpretation where there should actually be clarity. It is to be hoped that the BMAS will take another close look at the matter and revise the current draft accordingly.

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