Eternit Ordered to Pay for Belgian Clean-up
(New material added May 24, 2012)
After decades of escaping liability for the pollution caused by its asbestos manufacturing operations in the Belgian town of Kapelle op den Bos, Eternit Belgium has been ordered by OVAM, the body tasked with decontaminating polluted sites in Flanders, to pay for the remediation work required in order to make the area safe. In forests near the former asbestos-cement factory and on dumpsites used by the company, debris such as broken pipes containing chrysotile and/or crocidolite asbestos continues to pose a potent threat to the public.
The Belgian Asbestos Victims Group (ABEVA) has campaigned to raise awareness of the health hazard caused by Eternit's asbestos waste for more than a decade. In 2010, ABEVA took members of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) to the Kapelle site where samples were collected of hazardous debris, including roofing material and broken asbestos-cement pipes, found on the Eternit sports center playground and in the backyards of two domestic properties. The laboratory results showed horrendous levels of asbestos with one sample containing up to 20% crocidolite asbestos.
Korean Asbestos Activist Ye-yong Choi inspecting Eternit asbestos debris at Kapelle in 2010.
When the landmark verdict in Françoise Jonckheere vs. Eternit1 was handed down in October 2011, the massive press interest generated by the country's first successful environmental case for an asbestos victim galvanized public opinion and attracted the attention of the authorities. Mrs. Jonckheere's son Eric gave interviews to journalists at the Kapelle site during which he pointed out the presence of hazardous waste.
In October 2011, OVAM undertook asbestos monitoring of the Kapelle site. The presence in the soil of chrysotile and crocidolite contamination was confirmed with 39,000 particles per kg of dry soil recorded (see: OVAM Survey Outline Results).
The Flemish authorities began Phase 1 of the decontamination work in Kapelle earlier this year (2012) and completion is expected by the end of May 2012; Phase 2 is due to begin in October. Until this week's ruling by OVAM, the costs for the reclamation work were paid for by the public purse. The implications for Eternit Belgium of OVAM's decision are huge. Although the final bill for the remediation in Kapelle will, it is believed, be substantial it is likely that other Eternit-contaminated sites will be identified both in Belgium and abroad. After so many years, the pigeons are coming home to roost and the polluter may indeed become the payer.
May 23, 2012
1 Kazan-Allen L. Justice for Françoise? October 26, 2011.