The Turin court ordered asbestos company, Eternit's owners to pay a total of ?95 million in compensation to the families of the victims, to the town of Casale, trade unions and other parties. Damages are also to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims' relatives and to a number of local authorities.
TOXICS WATCH Alliance (TWA) welcomes the guilty verdict of a court in Turin, Italy that provides legal remedy for a public health and environmental disaster that claimed thousands of lives due to the criminal callousness of asbestos company and calls on Union Finance Minister to provide a road map for the phase out of asbestos products in the upcoming Budget Session of the Indian Parliament. The 3-judge panel sentenced the owners of asbestos company, the defendants to 16 years in jail on February 13, 2012.
It is noteworthy that the birth place of Chairperson of Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi is in the Turin province. Italy banned asbestos in 1992 still its effect is being felt as a consequence of past exposures. While Italy has banned asbestos, manufacturing of asbestos products is rising at alarming rate in India in general and in Rae Bareli, her parliamentary constituency in particular.
Italian Health Minister Renato Balduzzi has applauded the verdict by the Turin court as "without exaggeration, truly historic". The silence of India’s Union Health Minister in the matter of public health crisis due to asbestos exposure is deafening.
The Turin court ordered asbestos company, Eternit’s owners to pay a total of €95 million in compensation to the families of the victims, to the town of Casale, trade unions and other parties. Damages are also to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities.
TWA hopes Indian Parliament will equip the legal system so that they can provide remedies to present and future victims of asbestos fibers.
This verdict came in the criminal trial of 64 years old Swiss Stephan Schmidheiny and 89 year old lead Belgian shareholder Louis de Cartier who owned and managed a company called Eternit that made asbestos-cement building products in many countries in Europe, South America, and South Africa. Eternit closed its operations in Italy in 1986.
The verdict was read out by Judge Giuseppe Casalbore after 66 hearings. Schmidheiny and Cartier were accused of causing “permanent health and environmental catastrophe” at their asbestos based plants. The victims were exposed to asbestos fibers.
TWA appreciates the conviction of these two billionaires and considers it a milestone in the battle to eradicate asbestos fibers that is still used in the construction industry in most of the Asian countries despite ban in 55 countries world over. This is the biggest ever trial on asbestos related deaths and the first involving criminal charges brought against asbestos company’s owners. Similar fate awaits the owners of asbestos companies in India which exercise an incestuous influence over ruling political parties and exacting fiscal incentives from Union Finance Ministry at least since 1982.
The trial has been going on since 2009. Schmidheiny has a net worth of about $3 billion and has reportedly spent over $10 million a year on lawyers and public relations representatives in this case. This proves that no amount of expenditure on public relations and advertisements can hide the truth about asbestos related incurable diseases such as Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma.
It has come to light that in the northern town of Casale Monferrato, where the largest of Eternit’s four plants were located since 1907, 1,800 people have died of asbestos-related diseases, including some 800 who never even worked for the asbestos company. Every week in the small town of 35,000, doctors discover a new case of pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. The company never handled disposal of asbestos waste (dust and fibers) in environmentally sound manner and gifted it to workers families.
In India, although trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) is banned under the Hazardous Waste Management Rules, there no capacity in the private or public sector to handle end of life asbestos products in an environmentally sound manner. One can witness countless locations even in the national capital where asbestos waste is strewn around in the streets, at the Railways Stations, Metros, hospitals and schools.
In such a backdrop, Commerce Ministry should desist from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" with Canada that allows import of Canadian asbestos to India. Incidentally, work is on to decontaminate the offices and homes of members of the Canadian House of Commons which have asbestos. The government has stated publicly that it does not favour new asbestos plants in the country any more. "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure," a concept paper by the Ministry of Labour said in September 2011.
Union Environment Ministry s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health says, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." Union Ministry of Chemicals urged the government to disassociate itself from countries like Russia and Canada who derailed the international consensus that could have categorised chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. If the Finance Minister takes cognizance of the global and national developments, the Union Budget may see the beginning of the end of the asbestos manufacturing industry in India given the fact that it’s mining is already banned by Union Mines Ministry.
It high time Union Rural Development Minister took cognizance of it and made its Indira Awas Yojna, asbestos free. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer or mesothelioma and asbestosis, a chronic lung disease. The year 2011 will be remembered for a successful villagers' struggle against an asbestos plant in Chainpur-Bishunpur in Marwan block of Muzaffarpur district, Bihar that led to its closure. Bihar State Human Rights Commission has announced the winding up of the killer plant. Several such plants are facing resistance in Bihar and across the country. Kerala Human Rights Commission had banned the use of asbestos roofs in schools and hospitals in me state and the National Human Rights Commission had issued notices to central ministries, states and union territories seeking a report on asbestos related incurable diseases and on why asbestos should not be banned.
It is a bizarre and inexplicable economic logic to allow Russia and Canada and other asbestos producers to endanger the health of present and future generation of Indian citizens even as the developed world saves its citizens from the killer fibers of asbestos.