French Asbestos Legacy
As asbestos victims took to the streets of Paris, a Government report blamed much of the country's asbestos problems on media and government manipulation by asbestos stakeholders. On October 15, 2005, thousands of members of ANDEVA, a national association representing asbestos victims, demonstrated along the rue de la Pepiniere, nicknamed by protesters, the Street of the Poisoners; for many years, the headquarters of the International Asbestos Association, the French Asbestos Association and the Industrial Guild of Asbestos Manufacturers were located in this street.1 Carrying banners saying: 10 Deaths a Day, No One Responsible, No One Guilty! and For a Criminal Trial on Asbestos, the demonstrators demanded that the poisoners must be brought to trial. Although some asbestos victims have obtained court-awarded compensation and some courts have found employers guilty of inexcusable fault, not one asbestos executive or government official has been jailed for their part in the French asbestos epidemic.
For many years, French politicians and diplomats opposed attempts by the European Union to ban asbestos:
In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when most European governments had banned the use of asbestos in insulation and fire protection, France imported 80 kilos per inhabitant.
There were no regulations minimizing occupational asbestos exposures in France until 1971, forty years after regulations had been introduced in Britain. The result of the government inaction is 3,000 asbestos deaths a year with A Hundred Thousand Deaths to Come.2
In February 2005, a working party set up by the French Senate began to investigate the consequences of asbestos contamination in France. The authoritative 333 page report, which was published on October 26, 2005, says that 35,000 asbestos deaths occurred between 1965 and 1995 and predicts that 60,000-100,000 could occur in the coming 25 years.3 The report calls the country's asbestos cancer epidemic inescapable and irreversible and estimates that 27-37 billion euros will be needed in the next 20 years to treat victims. The manipulation of the government and public by an asbestos industry-backed public relations organization called le comite permanent amiante (CPA: the Permanent Committee on Asbestos), which operated between 1982 and 1995, was soundly criticized:
(The CPA) was, in fact, nothing more than an industry lobby which used scientists, social partners and representatives from the relevant government ministries to promote the policy of the 'controlled use of asbestos,' as a viable option to an asbestos ban in France the CPA was a model of lobbying, communication, manipulation and exploitation and, in the absence of action by the State, spread pseudo-scientific pro-asbestos propaganda which contradicted the state-of-knowledge regarding asbestos hazards prevalent in Anglo-Saxon literature of the time.4
The massive use of asbestos in France has created an occupational and environmental health catastrophe for which the Government is to blame.
October 28, 2005
1 Mabut P. French workers demand justice over asbestos poisoning. October 20, 2005.
2 Mayle F. Asbestos: a Hundred Thousand Deaths to Come.
4 This is a rough translation by this author of an extract from the executive summary of the report (page 13).