José María Íñigos Last Battle
Spanish broadcaster, journalist and presenter José María Íñigo died, as he predicted, with his boots on, days before presenting the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 semi-final.1 Mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer he had contracted in 2016, silenced this famous voice as it had silenced others, technicians as well as performers at venues where asbestos soundproofing had been used. After more than 50 years at the forefront of Spains burgeoning television and cultural revolution, Íñigo was a much-loved household name having developed and taken part in many of the countrys iconic television programs. Now, nearly three years after his death, the lawsuit he initiated over his deadly exposure to asbestos at the studios of the Spanish Radio and Television Corporation (Corporación de Radio y Televisión Espaola, S.A. /RTVE) is scheduled to commence in the Social Courts of Madrid.
José María worked in the Prado del Rey RTVE studios in Madrid which were completed in 1964, during a time when asbestos use was growing in popularity throughout Europe. With an area of 1,200 square meters Studio 1 Íñigos home from home was one of the largest sets in Europe.2 To create optimal acoustic conditions, the walls and ceilings of the studio were covered with sprayed crocidolite (blue) asbestos soundproofing. This material was highly friable and within a short time began to deteriorate. According to witnesses, during the 1970s and 1980s a fine drizzle of gray dust, visible through the beam of spotlights, fell on studio personnel. Any movement, including the applause of live audiences, liberated asbestos fibers which floated through the air and into the lungs of anyone on the set. To add to the hazard posed by the presence of the toxic soundproofing, many of the special effects used were also made of asbestos in combination with other materials such as cardboard.
José María Íñigo (left) during a broadcast of the Directísimo program, in Prado del Rey's Studio 1, in which he had as the psychic Uri Geller as a guest. RTVE.
An attempt to address the workplace hazard was made in the 1980s when partial and temporary coatings were applied to stop the fibers becoming airborne. Finally in 2011, RTVE allocated a budget of €70 million to demolish and rebuild several studios. Thousands of asbestos-contaminated props and costumes were sent to landfill along with the building debris from the remediation work; the premises were closed from 2015 to 2018.
With the accumulated evidence and the large amount of money spent to remediate the RTVE studios, there could be no doubt that the company was aware of the presence of the asbestos. When José María approached his employer after receiving the cancer diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma, he was met with a wall of denial. This week, the bereaved widow and children Pilar, Daniel, Eduardo and José María, through their lawyer, reiterated their resolve to continue the legal proceedings saying: We want to carry on with the judicial process against TVE in memory of our father. 3
The familys lawyer is optimistic about the outcome of the case:
We have a lot of proof that he was exposed to asbestos. We have testimony that corroborates it. José María's colleagues from those years confirm that [asbestos] dust even fell from the ceilings in the studio. And jurisprudence of other cases, for example, that of a special effects technician from TVE, who has been recognized as having an occupational disease. From there, the court will have to decide.
Commenting on the inhumanity of prolonging the familys grief, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (the Forum) Joanne Gordon said:
On behalf of the Forum, I send condolences to the wife and children of José María Íñigo, who this week will be continuing his fight for justice in a Madrid court room. It is appalling that in this day and age, the company responsible for exposing him to asbestos in Studio 1 continues to shirk its responsibility for his death. In the UK, we know full well the consequences of mixing human beings with asbestos. More than five thousand Britons are still dying every year from asbestos-related cancers and diseases. José Marías family deserves respect, support and compensation for his death. We send them this message of support and solidarity and hope that the defendants in this case will do the right thing and admit their negligence so that family members can finally take the time to grieve for their loss having fulfilled José Marías final wish.
On Thursday, January 21, 2021 the claimants and defendants will meet in Court for the first hearing in this case; once the family obtains a finding that the cause of Íñigo's death was an occupational disease, the next step will be to sue RTVE. The fact that a technician and electrician succeeded in having their diseases recognized as occupationally caused by exposures to asbestos is grounds for optimism. The media attention this case is attracting is huge. One can but hope that somewhere the spirit of José María Íñigo is looking down as his final battle rages. A victory in this case will strengthen the rights of all Spanish asbestos victims.
January 20, 2021
1 Herrera, J.O. José María Íñigo y el amianto en RTVE. [José María Íñigo and the asbestos at RTVE].
January 5, 2021.
2 Lorca, M.P., Anquela, J.M.S. José María Íñigo, el último famoso víctima del Amianto [José María Íñigo, the last famous asbestos victim]. January 18, 2021.
3 Recio, E. La familia de José María Íñigo atribuye su muerte por cáncer al amianto en los estudios de TVE [The family of José María Íñigo attributes his death from cancer to asbestos "in the TVE studios"]. January 20, 2021.