The Commissioner and the Ombudsman for Future Generations have found several problems in the legal regulation relating to the dismantling of the asbestos cement factory in Lőrinc

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, László Székely and the Ombudsman for Future Generations, Gyula Bándi in their joint investigation have found several fundamental rights violations in connection with the dismantling of the asbestos cement factory in Lőrinc.

Legislative gaps and contradictions, disputes over the powers of the authorities, weaknesses in enforcing the legal compliance of business operators, and the scarcity of funds to address environmental damage jeopardized the health of residents. The Commissioner and his deputy have made a legislative proposal.

Legislation on liquidation proceedings provides, in principle, rules on liability for environmental damages caused by hazardous waste in former facilities. However, the authorities are unable to enforce these rules, because the business operators try to exempt themselves from the obligations by making use of the deficiencies of the legal regulation.

In the absence of adequate guarantee rules, successive owners in the liquidation proceedings may escape the decontamination responsibility, leaving it ultimately to the state. The state, however, due to the cumbersome nature of the authorities and the lack of resources, often gets to decontamination decades later, when the  aggravating health and environmental risks are already apparent and serious. The inadequacy of the state resources needed to take immediate action is particularly worrying in environmental and health matters where delays can cause irreversible damage and a significant deterioration of the environment. The establishment of a separate decontamination fund could help to prevent  these situations from recurring. This was also promoted by the Ombudsman for Future Generations and, to this end, he made a legislative proposal.

The legal anomalies and the lack of active authority involvement can lead to the violation of fundamental rights, such as the right to life, the right to health and healthy environment, while at the same time increasing the cost of intervention too.

One of the main reasons for this situation is, as Gyula Bándi pointed out in his legislative proposal, that domestic legislation does not require the provision of financial collateral for environmental responsibility. Although the Environmental Law, in accordance with the Environmental Liability Directive, prescribes this obligation, the government has not yet adopted the necessary rules for implementation, so the ‘polluter pays’ principle cannot be enforced in many cases. This is accompanied by the inadequate legal regulation of the liquidation procedure, which allows the closure of the procedure without the substantial discovery and elimination of the potential  environmental pollution.

In the case of the factory in Selyp, the environmental and health risks have also been increased by the fact that the new owners of the site dismantled the buildings without honoring their asbestos removal obligation. This was partly due to the fact that in the case of asbestos removal works both the legal regulation and the environmental authorities are divided. The simultaneous enforcement of building, labor, health, and waste management requirements should be guaranteed through the close cooperation between the competent authorities; however, in the present case, the overly divided competencies have led to malfunctions and deficiencies in the legal enforcement and controls.

According to the authorities, a complex regulatory examination can be realized in a system where the various official procedures are integrated. In the present case, however, an additional risk has emerged, i.e., demolition works do not need an official authorization in all cases, therefore the environmental authority is not always involved and in these cases the environmental requirements cannot appear. The authorities’ cooperation difficulties and disputes also contributed to the fact that the environmental standards were not adequately enforced. Also,  in the absence of adequate information to the public, potentially vulnerable citizens were unaware of the health risks involved. Therefore, the Commissioner and his Deputy emphasised the importance of appropriate official information in environmental and health emergencies.

In order to ensure the right to a healthy environment, László Székely and Gyula Bándi have made a legal proposal to remedy the situation.