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Pressure builds for the #GreenDeal ‘Renovation Wave’ to address mineral wool health risks and lack of recyclability

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The European Commission’s ambitious European Green Deal aims to address the twin challenge of energy efficiency and affordability and states that the European Union and the member states should engage in a 'Renovation Wave' of public and private buildings.

This policy enjoys broad support and the renovation wave has also become a key element of the Commission’s post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan, the flagship €750 billion fiscal package which is top of the agenda for Friday’s “virtual” summit in Brussels of EU leaders and heads of state. The council will again be online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commission is currently consulting on the Renovation Wave and is expected to adopt this initiative as planned later this year. Insulation is likely to be a major plank of this project. However, concerns are growing that potential health risks from a widely used insulation material called Manmade Vitreous Fibres (MMVF), also known as mineral wool, along with fears it is not a recyclable material, must be taken into account as Europe renovates its buildings.

The Commission stated in its new Circular Economy Action Plan that the Renovation Wave would lead to significant improvements in energy efficiency in the EU and would be implemented in line with circular economy principles, including recycling. It would pay special attention to insulation materials, which generate a growing waste stream. In April, Pascal Canfin (RE, France), the Chair of the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) made calls for renovation schemes to play a central role in a green recovery plan, with European funds to insulate every school in Europe.

Against this backdrop, the European Parliament is working on a resolution on maximizing the energy efficiency potential of the EU building stock. The draft report of the responsible Industry Committee of the European Parliament (ITRE) by Rapporteur Ciarán Cuffe (Greens/EFA, Ireland) considers that energy-efficient buildings should be safe and sustainable because "now, more than ever, citizens require and deserve a healthy and safe place to call home."

The Environment and Health Committee (ENVI) is working on an opinion to inform the ITRE report. The draft opinion of the ENVI Rapporteur Maria Spyraki (EPP, Greece) “[s]tresses that there is no common EU legislation on the management of bulky waste in general, and of polystyrene and stone wool in particular; expresses its concern about the safe handling of insulation materials, given the possible inclusion of dangerous substances in them”.

Multiple amendments to that suggestion have been proposed, including amendment 60, by Jutta Paulus (Germany) on behalf of the Greens Group: “Stresses that dumping of waste is illegal and that there is no common EU legislation on the management of bulky but recyclable waste such as stone wool; expresses its concern about the safe handling of insulation materials such as polystyrene, during demolition as well as in waste treatment, given the possible inclusion of dangerous substances in them that put a threat to the non-toxic environment […]”. It is clear in this amendment that a claim is attempted to be made that mineral wool is recyclable, but that claim appears to be far from clear cut.

The recyclability of the mineral wool has been challenged. It is a material made from synthetic fibres, despite its very natural sounding names like “mineral wool” or “stone wool”. Stone wool, which is a form of mineral wool has been deemed only theorectically recyclable or recyclable to a limited extent which rather challenges the position of ENVI Shadow Rapporteur Paulus. Even Eurima, the European mineral wool insulation manufacturers association says that recycling options for mineral wool exist only “in some countries, for example in the brick industry or recycling offered by a mineral wool manufacturer”.

A 2009 academic article notes that there is hardly any reliable data available on the actual volume of mineral wool wastes. There are also concerns that any carcinogenic properties of the material do not simply disappear just because it is being recycled. Mineral wool wastes share the properties of the original material; this includes “the carcinogenic potential of old mineral wools, secondary components such as binder and lubricant contents or aluminium layers, etc., as well as low bulk density.”

Mineral wool is treated under the EU Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP Regulation 1272/2008 as “suspected human carcinogen”. The so-called “Q note” allows for exceptions from this classification under certain requirements, which mineral wool produced before 1996 generally do not fulfil. Possibly carcinogenic mineral wool has not been banned across the EU yet, e.g. in Austria. Health concerns are not limited to possible carcinogenicity. There are other health concerns which also apply to so-called new mineral wool, produced since 1996, including skin abnormalities and lung disease including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). These potential health risks add to concerns over recyclability, raising questions over whether it is wise to recycle a material when there are such concerns over the safety of the original material.

Discussion will intensify as key dates approach, such as 25 June when the ENVI opinion is to be adopted, followed by the adoption of the ITRE report on 6 July and the adoption of the content of ITRE report by EP plenary on 14 September. The revised Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will also be discussed at today's summit.

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EAPM: There’s no ‘pandemic fatigue’ with the Alliance, and the newsletter is available!

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the last European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of October. We hope you are all looking forward to the best Hallowe’en you can enjoy under present circumstances, so on with the news, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Newsletter, and no EAPM pandemic fatigue

As you will see from the update below, frustration and anxiety about coronavirus restrictions is being referred to as ‘pandemic fatigue’ - there is no such fatigue on the part of EAPM, as you will see from our ongoing work which is outlined in our newsletter, available here, as well as our upcoming work on the EU Beating Cancer Plan and the EU Health Data Space, as well as our engagement with the institutions.

EU to fund transfer of COVID-19 patients between countries

The European Union will finance the transfer of patients across borders within the bloc to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed as COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations spike in the continent. 

After a video conference of EU leaders to discuss the health crisis on Thursday (29 October), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive had made available €220 million ($260m) to move COVID-19 patients across borders. “The spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare systems if we do not act urgently,” she said. 

At the meeting, leaders agreed to better co-ordinate efforts to battle the virus as infections in Europe exceeded 10 million, making the continent again the epicentre of the pandemic. EU countries want to avoid divisions which dogged the 27-nation bloc at the beginning of the pandemic, when nations vied with each other to buy scarce medical equipment.

EPSCO unites

Following Thursday’s meeting, health ministers are meeting today (30 October) under increasingly dramatic and pressurized circumstances, as the spread of the coronavirus encounters growing resistance to government measures in Italy and Germany. 

EAPM will be closely following the work and outcomes of the EPSCO council, as well issues relating to key policy areas, as health ministers discuss how better to co-ordinate as countries return to one form or another of lockdown. 

On Thursday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a package of measures to help, which ranged from co-ordination on testing and a Europe-wide passenger locator form as well as the expansion of green lanes.

Pandemic fatigue

It is perhaps inevitable that after nearly eight months of restrictions and lockdowns, with people’s lives globally being forced to change in order to fight the pandemic, that frustrations and fatigue with the status quo will come to the fore. In recent weeks, many countries have been reporting an increase in ‘pandemic fatigue’ – people are feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviours to protect themselves and others from the virus. 

Finding effective ways to tackle this fatigue and reinvigorate public vigilance is a growing challenge as the crisis continues. Pandemic fatigue evolves gradually over time and is affected by the cultural, social, structural and legislative environment. 

High-level public health experts from more than 30 countries and many partner organizations from the World Health Organization (WHO) European region connected remotely to search together the root causes of this phenomenon and share national experiences and plans.

At the request of European member states, WHO/Europe developed a framework of policy recommendations to guide governments in the planning and implementation of national and subnational strategies to bolster public support for COVID-19 prevention measures.

It includes 4 key strategies:

  • Understand people: Collect and use evidence for targeted, tailored and effective policies, interventions and communication. 

  • Engage people as part of the solution. 

  • Help people to reduce risk while doing the things that make them happy.Acknowledge and address the hardship people experience, and the profound impact the pandemic has had on their lives. 

At their summit on Thursday, EU leaders pledged to promote co-operation in every aspect of their fight against the coronavirus — by keeping borders open, improving testing and contact tracing, monitoring critical care capacity and developing plans for the swift manufacture and distribution of vaccines. 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “We have different situations in EU countries so it’s good that the handling of measures is in the hands of member states, but of course we need to co-ordinate.” 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “A co-ordinated European approach is of great importance, especially for Germany as a country in the middle of Europe, it is important that the borders remain open.” 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “Close co-ordination between governments and the European Commission is essential to respond quickly and effectively to the new wave of COVID-19. The health response must go hand in hand with the economic one. Only a united Europe will overcome the crisis.” 

And that is all for this week and all for October, isn’t the year just flying by, despite all the stresses and strains of COVID-19? In November, EAPM will have two academic articles arriving, addressing two topics from multi-stakeholder authorship, including an article on gene therapy as well as one on Alzheimer’s and related dementia. 

Here is a link to our newsletter again – do try to have an enjoyable Hallowe’en weekend, stay safe and well, see you next week.

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Britain pressed to follow French and German lockdowns as COVID rates surge

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Britain resisted pressure on Thursday (29 October) to impose a second nationwide lockdown after France and Germany ordered sweeping restrictions on social life to contain a surge in coronavirus infections that has pushed health services to their limits, write and .

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has so far tried to avoid a nationwide lockdown, opting instead for a tiered system of local controls intended to tighten measures in affected regions while leaving others less restricted.

A new study by Imperial College in London underlined the dire situation facing Britain, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, showing cases in England doubling every nine days.

Steven Riley, the author of the study, said the government should decide quickly if it wanted to follow France and Germany.

“And sooner is better than later for these,” Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics, told the BBC.

However Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he did not think it was inevitable that the UK would follow France and Germany in imposing nationwide restrictions.

“The judgement of the government today is that a blanket national lockdown is not appropriate, would do more harm than good,” he told Times Radio.

Europe’s economies were plunged into their deepest recession on record by the blanket lockdowns imposed at the start of the crisis in March and April and the latest restrictions have snuffed out the faint signs of recovery seen over the summer.

Financial markets steadied somewhat on Thursday after a brutal selloff a day before as the prospect of a double dip recession came ever more clearly into view.

Governments have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdowns but have been forced to move by the speed of new infections and a steadily increasing mortality rate across the continent.

While the French and German lockdowns will leave schools and most businesses open, they severely restrict social life by closing bars, restaurants, cinemas and the like and impose strict limits on people’s movements.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed parliament on Thursday, said her government had moved quickly to prevent intensive care facilities being overwhelmed.

“We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were “necessary and proportionate”.

However she warned of difficult months ahead and said: “The winter will be hard.”

After heavy criticism of a lack of coordination and planning in the initial phase of the crisis, European Union leaders aim to make progress on common testing and vaccination strategies at a video conference on Thursday.

The latest surge in new cases has put Europe back at the centre of the global pandemic, which has so far seen more than 44 million infections and 1.1 million deaths worldwide.

According to figures from the World Health Organization this week, the region accounted for almost half of new global infections in the previous seven days.

The United States has also seen a surge in new coronavirus cases in the run up to next week’s presidential election, with more than 80,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths reported on Wednesday.

By contrast, many Asian countries have begun to relax controls as the disease has been brought under control, with Singapore announcing it would ease restrictions for visitors from mainland China and the Australian state of Victoria.

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Commission approves €7.7 million Greek scheme to support cultural activities in the Municipality of Athens in context of coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €7.7 million Greek scheme to support micro and small companies active in the cultural sector in the Municipality of Athens in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support will take the form of direct grants and it will be co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. A list of costs incurred by these companies in 2019 will be taken as a reference point to calculate the aid amount per undertaking, which may be between €10,000 and €200,000.

The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing due to the measures that the Greek government had to impose to limit the spread of the virus and to ensure continuity of their economic activity. The measure will help companies organise cultural events that promote the cultural assets of the city of Athens. The Commission found that the Greek measure is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €800,000 per company as provided by the Temporary Framework; and (ii) will be granted no later than 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the scheme is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59033 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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