The Congress of the Republic of Colombia, through Law 1968 of July 11, 2019, prohibited the use of asbestos in the national territory in order to preserve the life, health, and environment of workers and all its inhabitants. Organizations like the World Health Organization has shown that exposure to asbestos, in any of its uses, creates risks to public health.
According to this Act, from 1 January 2021, the exploitation, production, selling, import, distribution or export of any variety of asbestos and the products made with it shall be prohibited in Colombia. In addition, it mandates that the government formulates public policies for the substitution of the installed asbestos within five years of its promulgation. In accordance with the above, the National Commission for the Replacement of Asbestos was created as the institutional entity for overseeing, implementing and monitoring the aforementioned public policies. The Commission is also responsible for the labor protection and productive conversion of the asbestos industry.
In addition, those who fail to comply with the ban will face fines between one hundred (100) and the five thousand (5000) monthly legal minimum wages, without prejudice to criminal or disciplinary liability arising from these conducts. These faculties were given to the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce. Likewise, for matters within their competence, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the DIAN, among other entities, will also have the power to sanction.
This Act is relevant for the construction industry in Colombia, considering that a large percentage of the constructions in the country have asbestos within their components. This will involve challenges in the search for cost-effective substitute materials, in strengthening the safety and health conditions of the workers performing the substitution, and in the final disposal of asbestos as hazardous waste which is expected to grow in the following years.
However, because of this Act, a range of opportunities is created for the industry, that, depending on the path followed by the Government by implementing the public policy, could incentivize the massification of projects for the replacement of asbestos, that offer an added value in new solutions, generating new businesses for industry players and, in the use of substitute materials with sustainable qualities, which will contribute to the compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is expected that the National Commission for the Replacement of Asbestos will establish how the replacement policy will be implemented and the possibility of providing incentives, however, it is an ideal time to explore the opportunities that this Act brings in the implementation of projects from a sustainable perspective.