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Italy: Historic ‘Guilty’ Verdict in the Eternit Asbestos Trial

A historic verdict has been delivered in Italy in the Eternit trial on the deadly consequences of asbestos. The bosses of multinational Eternit had put the lives of their workers in danger and committed environmental crimes.

However, many people doubted that they would be convicted for their crimes. Yet this is what happened on February 13, 2012 in Turin, northern Italy. The two top senior executives of Eternit were sentenced to 16 years in prison; legal proceedings began in 2009.

The judges indicted [fr] Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of Eternit, and Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, former director of the Italian branch, as responsible for around 3,000 asbestos-related deaths, particularly in Casale Monferrato and its surrounding areas. They are also granted compensation to the victims, their families and civil society associations, and tens of millions of euros to some 6,000 plaintiffs.

The sentence was welcomed by hundreds of relatives and victims of asbestos poisoning, as well as by the representatives of the victims’ foreign associations.

Tribute to those who died from asbestos, in front of the Fibronit establishment in Casal Monferrato - Photo by Ro-buk: 'I' m not there on Flickr', reproduced under  a Creative Commons CC-BY license

Tribute to those who died from asbestos, in front of the Fibronit establishment in Casal Monferrato – Photo by Ro-buk: 'I' m not there on Flickr', reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY license

The website Swissinfo gives some additional details on the verdict [fr]:

Ils devront notamment verser 25 millions d'euros à la commune de Casale Monferrato, 20 millions à la région Piémont et 15 millions à l'Inail, la caisse nationale italienne d'assurance en cas d'accidents. M. de Cartier devra également verser 4 millions d'euros à la commune de Cavagnolo.

Messieurs Schmidheiny et de Cartier devront en outre verser entre 70.000 et 100.000 euros à huit associations, dont des syndicats et l’association écologiste, WWF. Les victimes de l'amiante et leurs familles recevront quant à elles des indemnités s'élevant pour la plupart entre 30.000 et 35.000 euros, selon la liste lue par le président du tribunal.

This will include paying 25 million euros to the town of Casale Monferrato, 20 million euros to the region of Piedmont and 15 million euros to INAIL, the Italian national fund for insurance against accidents. Mr. de Cartier will also have to pay 4 million euros to the municipality of Cavagnolo.

Mr. Schmidheiny and Mr. de Cartier will also have to pay between 70,000 and 100,000 euros to eight associations, including trade unions and the environmental organization, WWF. The victims of asbestos and their families will receive compensation ranging, for most people, between 30,000 and 35,000 euros, according to the list read by the President of the Tribunal.

The website Sanità in Cifre explains [it] why this trial was considered the “trial of the century”:

La sentenza di Torino su Eternit interviene su quello che qualcuno ha definito “il processo del secolo”, per l’impressionante quantità di vittime coinvolte: oltre 2.200 decessi dovuti all’amianto, 700 malati di asbestosi, oltre 6.000 costituzioni di parte civile e una platea di legali composta da 150 avvocati.

The Turin verdict against the Eternit company is truly what some have called “the trial of the century,” because of the appalling number of victims involved: more than 2,200 asbestos-related deaths, 700 patients with asbestosis, more than 6,000 plaintiffs and a legal plateau of 150 lawyers.

The families of the victims of asbestos have started a blog, Asbestos in the Dock and a Facebook page. They believe that the importance and the international implications of this trial go far beyond Italian borders:

Also, public prosecutors in other countries may study the Turin trial as a precedent for bringing their own criminal trials against directors of national Eternit subsidiaries.

According to experts, the product will continue to kill for a long time to come. The website Sanita in Cifre shows the extent of this risk [it] in Europe and also in the rest of the world:

La triste contabilità delle vittime in Italia raggiungerà un picco tra il 2015 e il 2018, mentre in Europa occidentale le proiezioni si attestano su 500.000 morti nei primi 30 anni del 2000. E, secondo l’Organizzazione mondiale della Sanità, nel mondo muiono ogni anno 107.000 persone per cancro al polmone, mesotelioma o asbetosi dovuti a esposizione ad amianto, mentre sono oltre 125 milioni gli esposti ai rischi sui luoghi di lavoro.

The sad count of victims in Italy will reach its peak between 2015 and 2018, while in Western Europe, the projected death rate will reach 500,000 in the first 30 years of 2000. And, according to World Health Organization, 107,000 people worldwide die each year of lung cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis due to exposure to asbestos, while more than 125 million other people are at risk in their workplace.

In an interview with Christian Elia [it], Niccolò Bruna and Andrea Prandstraller, co-authors of the documentary “Polvere – Il grande processo all’amianto (Dust: The Great Asbestos Trial) for the monthly online magazine of the NGO Emergency, founded by the Italian war surgeon Gino Strada, describe the extent of the issue with asbestos and  the anger and pain of the residents of Casale Monferrato [it]:

L’amianto, bandito in Europa, è estratto e lavorato in molti grandissimi paesi del mondo: Russia, Cina, Brasile, India, Thailandia….Mentre i Paesi Europei sono alle prese con  costosissimi e quasi impossibili sforzi di decontaminazione il 75 percento della popolazione mondiale usa l’amianto-cemento ed è esposta ai suoi rischi. Perciò il problema amianto è oggi più attuale che mai.

Banned throughout Europe, asbestos is extracted and processed in many large countries: Russia, China, Brazil, India, Thailand …. While the European countries are dealing with expensive and nearly impossible decontamination efforts, 75 percent of the world’s population still uses asbestos-cement and is exposed to its risks. Therefore, the problem of asbestos is now more topical than ever.

This is what explains the presence of numerous delegations from associations of victims from abroad to attend the verdict reading in Turin. In a statement [fr] released on the same day, ANDEVA [fr] (a national association to protect victims of asbestos) reported that:

Ce jugement était très attendu. Par les victimes italiennes d’abord qui n’ont pu toutes pénétrer dans la salle d’audience dont beaucoup ont suivi la lecture intégrale du jugement à la télévision et à la radio. Mais aussi pour les victimes et les veuves venues apporter leur solidarité du Brésil, des Etats Unis, de Belgique, d’Angleterre, de Suisse, de France, qui ont pu l’entendre en direct en traduction simultanée. Avec l’Andeva, une délégation de 160 victimes et veuves était venue à Turin de toutes les régions de France (Bourgogne, Rhône Alpes, Martigues, Dunkerque, Paris). Parmi eux des anciens d’usines françaises d’Eternit.

This verdict was eagerly anticipated. First, by the Italian victims who could not all be in the courtroom, many of whom have followed the full verdict reading on television and radio. And also by the victims and the widows who came to express their solidarity from Brazil, USA, Belgium, England, Switzerland, and France, who were able to hear it directly in simultaneous translation.  The ANDEVA delegation included 160 victims and widows, travelling to Turin from all regions of France (Burgundy, Rhône-Alpes, Martigues, Dunkirk, Paris). Also attending were some former French Eternit workers.

Unfortunately, even in the most serious tragedies, the victims’ fate can vary widely. In this case of the killer powders, the victims residing [it] in the towns of Rubiera [it, Reggio Emilia) and Bagnoli (Naples) will not receive any compensation because the crimes were prescribed. Yet living victims will need to support themselves, to feed their family members, and to preserve the environment for future generations.

To get an idea of how many people find themselves overlooked, on the blog Suite 101, Valerie Wilson wrote:

 The President of Naples Province, Luigi Cesaro, listed the death bulletin from the Bagnoli factory:

  • 134 deaths from lung cancer
  • 9 deaths from larynx cancer
  • 258 deaths from asbestosis
  • 65 deaths from mesothelioma

as well as 100 workers still ill from the above illnesses.

Antonio Iaccarino, son of two patients contaminated in the town of Bagnoli wrote on the Facebook page Sentenza Processo Eternit [it]:

I miei genitori sono entrambi malati, sono stati lavoratori di Bagnoli e hanno lavorato dal 1960 al 1984…i loro amici del lavoro con i quali condividevano 3 turni si contano sulle dita di una solo mano, io forse sono un pò più fortunato di altri che hanno avuto i propri cari all'Eternit ma la vita dei miei genitori di sicuro non è stata, per motivi di salute, tutta rosa e fiori….

My parents are both ill, they worked in Bagnoli from 1960 to 1984 … the co-workers with whom they shared working shifts can be counted on one hand, perhaps I was luckier than others, who had loved ones working at Eternit, but the lives of my parents certainly were not, for health reasons, just roses and flowers ….

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