Mobilization of Italian Asbestos Victims
On June 8, 2017, a conference entitled Lotte e Amianto: Sofferenza, Coinvolgimento, Impegno. Uno Sguardo Transnazionale (Struggles and Asbestos: Suffering, Involvement, Engagement. A Transnational Panorama) was held in Bologna, Italy. Presentations made by speakers from Italy, Brazil and the UK contextualized the efforts of Italian asbestos victims groups within an international framework.1 The location of this event was apposite as Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna (ER) region in northern Italy, has a high incidence rate of malignant mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure. Every year, scores of workers die from occupational exposures experienced in the railway industry, at asbestos-cement production facilities, at a local plant which manufactured waterproofing materials and at power stations.
Updating delegates on the efforts of victims groups were: Andrea Caselli, President of the Associazione Familiari e Vittime Amianto, Emilia-Romagna AFeVA ER (the Association of Relatives and Victims of Asbestos, Emilia-Romagna), Giuliana Busto, from AFeVA, Casale Monferrato, Lillo Mendola from the Associazione Familiari Vittime Amianto, Bari AFVA (the Association of Relatives/Victims of Asbestos, Bari) and Fernanda Giannasi representing the Associação Brasileira dos Expostos ao Amianto ABREA (Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed).
From left: AFeVA Presidents Andrea Caselli and Giuliana Busto (photo courtesy of Noella Bardolesi, AFeVA).
Fernanda Giannasi (photo courtesy of Noella Bardolesi, AFeVA).
In the face of adverse economic developments, problematic political circumstances and serious financial constraints, these groups continue to mobilize support for the injured and advance local, regional and national action on asbestos issues. An extremely impressive publication distributed at the conference was a collection of art work undertaken by schoolchildren for an asbestos contest organized in 2016-17 by AFeVA ER and the Legislative Assembly of the Emilia-Romagna Region; this work was presented to the Emilia-Romagna Legislative Assembly on International Workers Memorial Day (April 28), 2017. The submissions reproduced in this 63-page book were extremely effective and show that the artists had studied the subject of asbestos to a considerable degree including medical, social and commercial aspects.2
The participation of the Mayor of Rubiera (in the Province of Reggio Emilia, in the Emilia Romagna region) Emanuele Cavallaro, CGIL trade unionist Franco Di Giangirolamo, author Alberto Prunetti, teacher Roberto Guglielmi, Researcher Fiorella Belpoggi from the Ramazzini Institute and Benedetto Terracini, Professor from the University of Torino, was a visible manifestation of the widespread concern regarding the countrys asbestos legacy; their presentations underlined the importance of mobilizing all sectors of society in the struggle to eliminate asbestos-related deaths.
Alberto Prunetti (photo courtesy of: Noella Bardolesi, AFeVA).
Renowned epidemiologist Professor Terracini outlined the responsibility of scientists to ensure that: political decisions in the area of public health and/or research are guided by non-neutrality (in order to) maximize information important for health rather than information important for other aspects of knowledge. He explained that while being impartial meant using uniform criteria when considering any available evidence on a problem regarding a decision, being non neutral with regard to health meant that residual uncertainty [was] to be solved in a sense which is favourable to the health of the exposed population.
Benedetto Terracini (photo courtesy of: Noella Bardolesi, AFeVA).
Italian scientists have played an important role in the fight for asbestos justice in documenting the impact of hazardous exposures on Italian citizens and in providing expert testimony to courts and government bodies.
A very timely presentation was made by Dr. Agata Mazzeo who just a few days before the conference took place was awarded a doctorate for work done on documenting the deadly epidemics and social movements created by asbestos catastrophes in Italy and Brazil. Her presentation was entitled: Dal corpo che soffre e ricorda; pratiche di lotta, impegno e communità (From the suffering and remembering body: practices of struggle, commitment and community). Dr. Mazzeo spoke of a ten-year journey which took her from her home town of Bari, where hazardous environmental exposures from the Fibronit asbestos-cement factory caused illness and death, to Casale Monferrato, site of Europes largest asbestos-cement factory, and to Osasco, Brazil, the location of the biggest asbestos-cement manufacturing facility in Latin America. I followed the movements she said of bodies, capital, and struggles along the trajectory ideally linking the two settings (Casale Monferrato and Osasco) A ten-month stay in Osasco enabled Dr. Mazzeo to interview scores of former asbestos workers, victims and carers and to understand their transformation from silent victims to social actors with the political and legal skills to influence Brazils asbestos dialogue.
Agata Mazzeo (photo courtesy of: Noella Bardolesi, AFeVA).
In a presentation entitled: Winning The Asbestos War by Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the speaker focused on the next generation of activists displaying photographs of asbestos victims, a medical expert, a politician, an asbestos victim support worker and asbestos-in-school campaigners from around the world. The last individual mentioned was academic-activist Dr. Agata Mazzeo whose research not only recognized the incredible grass-roots activism, fortitude and commitment to the cause of asbestos justice of AFeVA and ABREA but also created even closer links between the two communities. The presentation of an illustration entitled The Agata Effect showing her slaying the Eternit asbestos monster with her fountain pen, was warmly received.
Presentation to Agata Mazzeo by representatives of IBAS, AFeVA and ABREA (photo courtesy of: Noella Bardolesi, AFeVA).
In recent weeks there has been a series of adverse legal judgments absolving managers and businessmen of culpability for the asbestos-related deaths of Italian workers. The latest such verdict, handed down on June 15, 2017 by a Milan court, acquitted eight former managers of the Breda Termomeccanica-Ansaldo engineering company of charges related to the deaths of twelve workers.3 In the face of such setbacks, the commitment and resolve of all who took part in the Bologna asbestos conference is unwavering; the struggle continues.
June 20, 2017
1 The conference was filmed and the footage can be viewed on youtube at:
Some of the PowerPoints can be accessed at:
2 The book can be downloaded from this link: http://www.assemblea.emr.it/amianto/LibroAfeVaAmiantoOpereIstitutoArtisticoBologna.pdf/at_download/file/Libro%20AfeVa%20Amianto%20Opere%20Istituto%20Artistico%20Bologna.pdf
3 Breda-Ansaldo ex-execs cleared in asbestos trial. June 15, 2017.