A Man on a Mission
On April 28, 2022, the world was told what his friends had feared for a long time: Eric Jonckheere had contracted the same asbestos cancer that had killed his father Pierre (1987), his mother Françoise (2000) and his brothers: Pierre-Paul (2003) and Stéphane (2009).1
The release of this heart-breaking news was timed to coincide with the launch of a legal case against the company which had been responsible for the deaths of his family: Eternit, an asbestos multinational which had continued to profit from its toxic technology long after others had transitioned to asbestos-free production.
In a press statement issued by the Association of Belgian Asbestos Victims (ABEVA),2 it was disclosed that earlier today (April 28) Eric and his attorneys Jan Fermon and Quentin Marissal had served a summons on Eternit, ordering the company to appear before the Brussels Court of First Instance to answer charges of wilful misconduct (fault intentional) for having failed to prevent the contamination caused by the operations of its Kapelle-op-den-Bos factory; as a result of exposure to the asbestos fibers liberated by the plant, Eric contracted cancer. According to the media release, ABEVA supports Erics legal action as well as his determination to highlight ongoing asbestos injustices in Belgium.
The Jonckheeres Fight-back against Eternit
From the time of Françoises diagnosis with mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure, Eric has been a man on a mission. Françoise was determined to expose Eternits criminal behaviour and initiated Belgiums first legal action for environmental asbestos exposure. On her deathbed, she asked her five sons to continue the battle to hold Eternit to account.
Eric Jonckheere reading out statement after the 2017verdict.
On March 28, 2017, they fulfilled their promise when the Brussels Court of Appeal upheld a ruling condemning the Belgian conglomerate for the environmental asbestos exposure which had killed Françoise Vannoorbeek-Jonckheere. In their 15-page judgment, the judges concluded that Eternit had known asbestos was a carcinogenic substance since the 1970s but had failed to protect workers or local people from hazardous exposures as a result of which Françoise, who lived near the companys factory in Kapelle-op-den-Bos for decades, had contracted the fatal cancer mesothelioma.
The decision was hailed as a triumphant endorsement of the human right to live a life free of asbestos contamination. Putting people before profits, this verdict set a precedent not only for Eternits victims in Belgium but for others in countries such as Japan, the Congo, India and wherever Eternits asbestos operations compromised human health and the environment.
Building on the precedent set by Françoises case, the lawsuit launched on April 28, 2022 seeks to publicise the role played by Eternit in the national epidemic of asbestos-related diseases. Whilst the operations of the Belgian Asbestos Compensation Fund (AFA) facilitates access to compensation for victims who were self-employed or received environmental exposures, such as Eric, it basically whitewashes the companys guilt as applicants are forced to abrogate their right to take legal action in return for receiving compensation. There is, however, one exception. If the company is guilty of wilful misconduct, as the new lawsuit alleges, it is possible to sue. This case is bound to attract huge media attention not only because of the precedent it sets but also because of the human story it depicts: five people in one family struck down with a deadly cancer caused by the actions of the same company. It seems that Eric, like his mother Françoise, will not keep silent about the fate that has befallen him.
Determined to ensure that Françoises legacy lives on, Eric recorded the history of the Jonckheere family. He methodically detailed the everyday lives of Eternit employees and their families and the terrible consequences for the Jonckheeres of their daily contact with Eternits deadly dust. Blow by blow, breath by breath, the author spared the reader nothing when he wrote of how each one of his relatives had fought for more time with their loved ones. The deaths of his brothers left two widows and six fatherless children.
The book: Ma Guerre Contre LAmiante (My War Against Asbestos) was published in French3 in 2013 and in Dutch/Flemish in 2017;4 the 2021 English translation: Asbestos. My War with the Devils Dust is now available.5 The text of my preface for the 2021 book The Jonckheeres A Belgian Family Under Siege can be read at the link given below.6 An English translation of a short video which encapsulated the personal tragedies and public catastrophe Eternit caused in Erics home town has been created to highlight the disastrous aftermath of decades of asbestos production in Belgium.7
April 28, 2022
1 When they died from mesothelioma his father and mother were respectively 59 and 66 years old and Pierre-Paul was 44 and Stéphane 46.
2 ABEVA Press Statement. AMIANTE: Ouverture dun nouveau combat judiciaire
Une famille décimée et le décompte se poursuit! [ASBESTOS: Opening of a new legal battle. A decimated family, and the count continues!]. April 28, 2022
3 Jonckheere, E. Ma Guerre Contre LAmiante. 2013.
4 Jonckheere, E. Asbest leugens, chantage en mensenlevens [Asbestos lies, blackmail and human lives.] 2017.
6 Kazan-Allen, L. The Jonckheeres A Belgian Family Under Siege. 2021