In order to respond to the health issues raised by the exposure of populations to natural environmental asbestos, the General Directorate for Risk Prevention (DGPR) of the Ministry of Ecological Transition (MTE) has been working with BRGM since 2009 on various projects to map the presence of natural asbestos in mainland France.
8 October 2021
Carte nationale des zones cartographiées et des zones en cours de cartographie de la susceptibilité de présence d’amiante naturel dans l’environnement.

Carte nationale des zones cartographiées et des zones en cours de cartographie de la susceptibilité de présence d’amiante naturel dans l’environnement.

© BRGM

Fibres flexueuses d’anthophyllite-amiante dans un échantillon prélevé dans le Limousin.

Flexuous anthophyllite asbestos fibres in a sample taken in the Limousin.

© BRGM

The need

One of the actions undertaken in the 4th National Environmental Health Plan (PNSE4, 2020-2024) of the MTE is to "improve knowledge of the exposure to harmful substances and effects of the environment on the health of populations". The problem of asbestos when it is naturally present in the environment is one of the issues at stake in this action, for which BRGM has been called upon for its expertise. BRGM’s mission is to have a general idea of the distribution of existing lithological contexts that are likely to contain natural asbestos, in mainland France.

The results

The mapping of the likelihood of finding asbestos in the natural environment in mainland France started in 2009 and will be completed by the end of 2021. The main asbestos-bearing areas in metropolitan France are located in the ophiolitic sutures of the Western Alps range, of which Upper Corsica is a southern extension. However, other geological domains are also affected by the presence of asbestos-bearing ground, such as the external crystalline massifs of the Alps, the Armorican Massif, the Pyrenean range, the Massif Central, the Vosges Massif or the Massif des Maures. These areas have been the subject of geological field surveys and targeted sampling, followed by multi-method laboratory studies to characterise the fibrous minerals contained in different lithological contexts. At the end of this study, maps of the likelihood of there being natural asbestos were produced, at a scale of 1:50,000. These maps and the related reports are published on Infoterre. The last maps will be available at the end of 2021. Mapping work will then be undertaken in the French overseas regions and départements (DROMs) in 2022.

Using the results

By the end of 2021, maps at a scale of 1:50,000 and related reports covering the areas affected by the natural asbestos problem will be available to all. These different documents highlight, for each of the geological formations in the targeted study area, four levels of the likelihood of there being natural asbestos ("Null to very low", "Low", "Medium", "High to very high"). The documents, which reflect the possibility of there being asbestos in each of the geological formations without estimating the risk of exposure to people, are reference documents that can be used prior to any study or operations in areas likely to contain asbestos.

One of the actions undertaken in the 4th National Environmental Health Plan (PNSE4, 2020-2024) of the MTE is to "improve knowledge of the exposure to harmful substances and effects of the environment on the health of populations". The problem of asbestos when it is naturally present in the environment is one of the issues at stake in this action, for which BRGM has been called upon for its expertise. BRGM’s mission is to have a general idea of the distribution of existing lithological contexts that are likely to contain natural asbestos, in mainland France.

The partners

  • MTE/DGPR/BSE (Environmental Health Department)