Landmark Asbestos Prosecution in Brazil
On August 12, 2014, a Brazilian asbestos taskforce arrived to inspect the Eternit asbestos-cement factory in Rio de Janeiro, an industrial facility that exploits a judicial exemption allowing asbestos processing to continue in a state where asbestos is banned.
The inspection team, under the supervision of the Public Labor Prosecutor in Rio de Janeiro Janine Milbratz Fiorot, comprised four advisors from the Public Ministry, including engineers, doctors and environmental experts, and three labor prosecutors from around the country; it spent four days investigating the factory, its documents and processes. For protection, the inspectors were accompanied by officers from Brazils FBI. Retired labor inspector Fernanda Giannasi, who had been in Brasilia immediately before the taskforce arrived in Rio to receive the countrys highest award the Order of Judicial Merit for Labor was a member of the inspection team as an advisor for the Federal Public Ministry.
As a result of the examination of the plant, the prosecutors filed a class action on August 22, 2014 against Eternit, with a catalogue of charges and indictments; the civil lawsuit demanded the company pay $500+ million in collective pecuniary and moral damages to cover medical assistance and treatment protocols, including psychological support, hospital bills, palliative care and alternative therapies, for asbestos victims. Part of the damages will be used to pay for research into asbestos-related diseases, asbestos awareness campaigns, and decontamination of the factory, the industrial site and the surrounding areas.
This legal action marks a watershed in the history of Brazils asbestos industrial sector. While individual compensation cases have been brought and asbestos manufacturers fined over safety failings in the past, there have been very few such class actions. As Brazilians await the decision by the countrys Supreme Court over whether the federal policy allowing asbestos use is unconstitutional, this case is certain to have a massive media impact, raise public concerns about the hazards of asbestos exposures and impact on the financial viability of asbestos manufacturing and mining in Brazil. It will also explode, once and for all, the myth propagated by asbestos vested interests that the controlled use of Brazilian white asbestos is safe.
August 23, 2014