Eternit's Annus Horribilis
On November 24, 1992, Queen Elizabeth II made a speech commemorating her 40th anniversary as Monarch in which she said: 1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an 'Annus Horribilis'.1 For Eternit executives and shareholders, their horrible year began in the Summer of 2011. The developments which have taken place since then have brought the asbestos operations of the Eternit conglomerate into sharp focus and attracted the kind of attention that corporate spin doctors had worked so long to avoid. The Eternit industrial group, probably the largest manufacturer of asbestos cement in the world,2 stands exposed to the full glare of public attention for its crimes against employees, their family members, the public and the environment.
What Was Eternit?
Eternit has been the name of dozens of manufacturing companies and scores of building products; a dominant multinational industrial group, two global asbestos conglomerates, a brand, a patent and a generic term: in many markets the word Eternit was used to denote a range of asbestos-cement building products regardless of the trade mark, just like Kleenex is used interchangeably for the word tissue and hoover for all makes of vacuum cleaner.
There were incestuous and overlapping interests and relationships across the spectrum of Eternit companies. There was also a shared philosophy which prioritized corporate profits over everything else; in the climate which existed, hazardous asbestos exposures became a routine occurrence. The slew of recent legal cases against Eternit entities in Latin America and Europe and other adverse developments which have taken place around the world are a result of Eternit's disregard for human life.
Eternit's Annus Horribilis
|August 26, 2011||Brazil||Proceedings begun for environmental contamination caused by Eternit's operations at the Poçes asbestos mine.|
|November 28, 2011||Belgium||First successful case against Eternit, Belgium for environmental asbestos exposure.3|
|January 10, 2012||France||Judge Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy initiated an enquiry into the actions of key personnel in the French asbestos trade association, a body closely linked to Eternit and other asbestos stakeholders. 4|
|February 13, 2012||Italy||Eternit executives sentenced to 16 years in prison by Turin Court for causing wilful permanent environmental disaster and failing to comply with safety rules.5|
|February 2012||Switzerland||Test case progressed for environmental victim exposed to asbestos pollution created by Eternit plant.6|
|March 15, 2012||Holland||PhD dissertation defense by lawyer Bob Ruers of Power and Countervailing Power in Dutch Asbestos Regulations;7 a document which details Eternit's role in Holland's asbestos epidemic.|
|March 29, 2012||Spain||23 former workers from Uralita, an Eternit subsidiary, awarded €1.7 million ($2.3m) by a Madrid Court.8|
|April 3, 2012||Holland||Court of Appeal verdict for carpenter exposed to Eternit asbestos products between 1956 and 1967; Eternit had knowledge of the asbestos hazard and should have protected users.9|
|April 6, 2012||Italy||Case brought against Eternit, with Stephan Schmidheiny named as a defendant, for occupational and environmental asbestos exposure caused by operations at the Balangero chrysotile mine.10|
|April 16, 2012||Italy||Opening of court proceedings in Voghera of lawsuit against Fibronit, an Eternit collaborator, for occupational and environmental mesothelioma deaths in Broni.11|
|May 10, 2012||Brazil||National political scandal widens as police investigate allegations of corruption against three representatives from the asbestos mining state of Goias, accused of accepting payments from asbestos vested interests in return for political favors.12|
|May 21, 2012||Belgium||Eternit Belgium ordered by Flanders authorities to pay for remediation in Kapelle op den Bos. 13|
|May 28, 2012||Lebanon||Eternit named as asbestos polluter in Shekka City asbestos scandal.14|
Articles on the IBAS website document the growing global support not only for banning asbestos but also for bringing asbestos profiteers to justice for the crimes they have committed. The guilty verdict handed down by the Turin Court in February 2012 against two former Eternit executives is regarded as a legal precedent for judicial authorities in some jurisdictions and as an inspiration for campaigners around the world, all of whom are determined to see justice achieved for those whose lives have been sacrificed to asbestos.
June 7, 2012
2 Evidence given by Eternit Building Products Limited to the (British) Advisory Committee on Asbestos, 1976.
3 Waterman Y, 'Belgian Family Wins Historic Court Case Against Eternit', in Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial, Ed. D. Allen and L. Kazan-Allen (London: IBAS, 2012) pp. 81-85.
5 Kazan-Allen L. Landmark Victory for Italian Asbestos Victims. February 18, 2012.
6 Big compensation thanks to your trial. La Stampa. February 14, 2012.
7 The Dutch title of Dr. Ruers' thesis is: Macht en tegenmacht in de Nederlandse asbestregulering.
Email April 15, 2012 from Bob Ruers.
9 Email received from Bob Ruers, April 14, 2012.
10 Evidence collected shows that for many years Eternit owned 50% of the mine.
Amiantifera nuova Eternit. [The asbestos quarry is the new Eternit.] La Stampa. April 6, 2012
11 Eternit dietro la strage Broni? [Is Eternit behind the Broni massacre?] Il Monferrato. April 13, 2012.
12 The trio of representatives are: Senator Demóstenes Torres, Federal Deputy Carlos Alberto Leréia and Governor Marconi Perillo, all of whom represent the asbestos-mining state of Goiás.
13 Kazan-Allen L. Eternit Ordered to Pay for Belgian Clean-up. May 24, 2012.
14 Meguerditchian V. Import ban fails to curb asbestos danger. May 28, 2012.