Italy: Landmark ruling on asbestos
14 February 2012
"Eternit, landmark ruling," headlines Italian daily La Stampa following a Turin court's decision to sentence the owners of Eternit, a company that made asbestos-based construction materials, to 16 years in jail and a fine of €200 million. The fine is compensation for the "permanent health and environmental catastrophe" the company caused, the court ruled.
The paper explains that Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, 64, and Belgian Baron Louis De Cartier De Marchienne, 90, were accused of not respecting safety measures, although aware of the dangers caused by asbestos, in their Casale Monferrato plant, located in northwest Italy. The plant produced construction panels made with asbestos fibres in the 1960-70s. Asbestos was banned in Europe in 1986 but production continued elsewhere.
Nearly 3,000 cases of asbestosis and of mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer) were recorded among the workers and the population and 1,830 people have died to date. This was the most significant trial ever organised concerning asbestos contamination and the first heard by a criminal court, stresses La Stampa. Editor-in chief, Mario Calabresi says the convictions -
... are the recognition of one of the most courageous and tenacious battles for truth and justice ever attempted in Italy. A battle thanks to which it was shown that, for years, [asbestos] production continued in spite of evidence of risk to an entire community. Now no one will be able to claim ignorance or manipulation. [But the decision] does not put an end to the story nor does it file this massacre away for good. Today there are at least 50 new cases of mesothelioma in the region, twice as many as ten years ago.