Great Asbestos Trial: Post-Verdict Developments
The landmark judgment handed down on February 13, 2012 by the Turin Criminal Court which convicted asbestos defendants Stephan Schmidheiny and Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne of causing wilful permanent environmental disaster and failing to comply with safety rules continues to reverberate in Italy and abroad.1 On May 14, 2012, the Motivazioni (English translation: the motivations of reasons) for the verdict was announced, as a result of which more details have become available; the trial judges acknowledged a total of 6,392 injured parties and ordered financial penalties of €5 billion, of which €92m of interim payments are already overdue. On July 16, 2012, it was reported that Cesare Zaccone, a member of Schmidheiny's legal team, has submitted a 500-page appeal to the Turin Court, which looks to overturn the verdict on grounds of constitutionality, jurisdiction and statute of limitations.2
Two weeks earlier (June 28), the Turin Public Prosecutor who pioneered this case Raffaele Guariniello announced that he had appealed the judgment. Considering the crimes committed, 16 years in jail was an insufficient punishment. Guariniello is calling for the sentences to be increased to 20 years for both defendants.3 The public prosecutor's office, he added, is now investigating the deaths of 117 Italians who worked in the Swiss and German Eternit plants as well as the asbestos deaths of Italians in Brazil and France who were exposed to Eternit asbestos.4 Peer-reviewed research published this year (2012) in the paper Asbestos Fibre Burden in the Lungs of Patients with Mesothelioma Who Lived Near Asbestos-Cement Factories will, no doubt, inform future charges; Italian epidemiologists substantiated the public health risk in towns where asbestos manufacturing operations polluted the environment. For the general populations of Casale Monferrato and Bari, towns where there were asbestos-cement factories, the scientists have corroborated an increased mesothelioma risk for the general population.5
The Italian Minister of Health Renato Balduzzi became involved in the Eternit proceedings towards the end of last year (2011), when one of the defendants began settlement negotiations with the town council of Casale Monferrato, the municipality at the heart of the case. Since then, Balduzzui has taken every opportunity to raise the profile of Italy's ongoing asbestos emergency at national and international meetings. On April 24, Balduzzi proposed that the European Commission establish an EU network of asbestos-related disease centers of excellence during discussions with EU Commissioner for Health John Dalli at a meeting of EU Health Ministers in Denmark.6 Dalli's reaction was, the Italian Health Ministry reported, supportive of this proposal.
Of course, Eternit was not the only Italian company whose asbestos profits resulted in deadly exposures to workers and community members. An epidemiological survey ordered by Guaraniello regarding mortality from asbestos-related disease amongst the workforce at an asbestos factory in Grugliasco, Turin has uncovered an asbestos death rate of 29%: out of 824 fatalities, 237 were due to asbestos-related diseases. Investigations are ongoing regarding the cause of death of the 2,542 workers who were employed at this factory during the 20th century. Guariniello has also, according to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, started an investigation into the elevated incidence of mesothelioma cancer deaths amongst army tank personnel and maintenance staff; data accumulated by the Prosecutor regarding this situation has been submitted to a Senate committee investigating occupational cancer amongst military personnel. In this context, it is of interest to note that the products manufactured at the Grugliasco plant, which used a total of 60 million kilos of asbestos for textile production, were mainly sold to the military.7
July 17, 2012
1 Kazan-Allen L. Landmark Verdict for Italian Asbestos Victims. February 18, 2012
Kazan-Allen L. Clarification of Turin Judgment. February 22, 2012.
2 Sentenza Eternit Schmidheiny fa appello. July 16, 2012.
3 Allen D., Kazan-Allen L (Ed.). Eternit & The Great Asbestos Trial. February 13, 2012.
4 Eternit, l'appello della Procurat Pene piu severe per I manager. June 28, 2012.http://www3.lastampa.it/torino/sezioni/cronaca/articolo/lstp/460443/
5 Barbieri P.G. et al. Asbestos Fibre Burden in the Lungs of Patients with Mesothelioma Who Lived Near Asbestos-Cement Factories. 2012. http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/6/660.full
6 Murphy B. Italian Government takes Asbestos Safety and Care Concerns to EU International research Network Ahead? May 24, 2012.
7 Punivano chi si ammalava trasferendolo all'amianto blu. (Google translation: They punished those who are sick by transferring to blue asbestos.) La Stampa. June 1, 2012.