- At the construction site for the second Gotthard road tunnel, the miners encountered carcinogenic material containing asbestos.
- The Federal Roads Office (Astra) announced that measures had therefore been taken to protect workers and the population.
According to the report, a fissure with a small amount of actinolite was encountered during tunneling for the access tunnel in the Aare granite. Drilling through this material, also known as mountain leather, can release small amounts of asbestos fibers. If these mineral fibers get into the lungs, they can cause cancer years later. The Astra said there was never any danger to the environment.
Udo Oppliger, who is in charge of the tunnel project for the Astra, told the Keystone-SDA news agency that one had not expected to encounter asbestos at this point. The chasm is only one meter deep, but the geologists cannot rule out that further actinolite will be encountered again.
Asbestos is nothing new in tunnel construction. The material was also encountered during the construction of the Lötschberg and Gotthard base tunnels or the Ceneri base tunnel. Oppliger said they have experience with it, but it’s a hot topic.
The Astra, the construction companies, the accident insurer Suva and experts therefore ordered organizational and technical measures to protect workers and the population “in the sense of forward-looking safety precautions”, as it was also said.
Mask requirement and “legally compliant” disposal
According to Astra, the mountains are monitored and the air quality is measured. The measures also include wearing FFP3 respiratory masks and instructing those involved in handling rocks suspected of having asbestos. Furthermore, the tunnel air is dedusted during tunnelling.
In addition, to prevent the release of asbestos fibers, there are dust-binding measures during transport and storage of the excavated material. The Astra calls about the irrigation or cover. In Airolo TI, where the final landfill is located, excavated material with asbestos fibers will be deposited “safely and in accordance with the law”, the Federal Office further announced.
There has been a general ban on asbestos since 1990
Because of its durability and insulating properties, asbestos was used in building materials (eternit) in particular in the 1960s and 1970s and was widely used both in construction and in industry. From 1971 there was a limit value, and since 1990 there has been a general ban on asbestos.
The drilling work for the new Gotthard road tunnel started last August. First, the access tunnel is created. The second Gotthard tube is scheduled to open to traffic in 2029. The first tube, opened in 1980, will then be completely renovated.