Italian supreme court’s asbestos ruling could have major implications for Brazil. theguardian.com. November 1º, 2014, Court’s cancellation of Swiss asbestos polluter’s jail sentence dismays activists in Brazil, where substance is widely used. The Italian supreme court ruling on a case brought against Eternit, a Swiss-based building firm, could have major implications for the continued use of asbestos across the world. On Wednesday, the court in Rome cancelled an 18-year jail sentence on the firm’s former owner Stephan Schmidheiny, who was facing charges of environmental disaster, having been found guilty of failing to comply with safety rules in two previous rulings.
Relatives of those who died from asbestos-related diseases, who were shocked by the ruling, wear stickers saying ‘Eternit disaster: justice!’ Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP The basis of the court’s ruling was that the statute of limitations had passed – Eternit left Italy 25 years ago – but the local trade unions and the Italian asbestos victims’ association, Afeva, who brought the case jointly, now intend to take it to Strasbourg.
Victims’ families shouted: “Shame on you!” as the verdict was pronounced. The group consisted of about 200 people, most of them from Casale Monferrato, a north-west Italian city where victims of asbestos-related diseases have been numbered in the thousands. Others came from countries including Switzerland, the UK, the US, Argentina, Belgium and Brazil.
Bruno Pesce, the leader of Afeva, said: “This sentence is a shock, it has been a shot into our stomachs, it seems that thousands of deaths never existed. We can’t stop our fight when people keep on dying every week. My country missed a chance to tell the world the truth. We still ask for justice”.
Activists in Brazil are likely to be particularly dismayed by the court’s decision. The country is the world’s third-largest asbestos producer – at 300,000 tons per year – and a major consumer. Asbestos has been used extensively in Brazil, , mostly in the form of cement for roof tiles and roofing panels, plasterboard, and domestic and industrial water tanks.
Brazil’s asbestos industry: the human cost – video. .theguardian.com.Novemeber 20, 2014.Brazil’s asbestos industry is exacting a terrible human toll. Up to 15,000 Brazilians die of asbestos-related diseases annually – 10% of the global total – but the industry’s ties with government, and even the medical profession, ensure there is no political will to heed the World Health Organisation’s call for a worldwide ban on the substance. Here, factory workers lay bare the suffering caused by their exposure to asbestos, while a University of São Paulo pulmonologist warns of the ‘uncontrollable epidemic’ ahead if Brazil fails to listen to the warnings sounded by campaigners
According to Ubiratan de Paula Santos, a pulmonologist at the University of São Paulo medical school, it is estimated that Brazil accounts for 10% of global asbestos-related deaths. “It’s time to put an end to this, otherwise 30 years from now this epidemic will increase, and will reach uncontrollable levels,” he said.
The Italian case is the biggest trial for environmental damage in European history, with more than 2,890 injured parties – workers and members of the public living around the plants. More than 2,000 have died or are suffering from serious illnesses,
The Cana Brava mine, owned and operated by Sama, part of the Brazilian Eternit Group, in Minacu, Brazil. Cana Brava is the only mine producing chrysotile, or white asbestos, in Latin America.Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/ReutersLinda Reinstein, president of the US-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation, said: “With this verdict, money and power won again. Eternit’s flagrant disregard for public health and the environment is reprehensible and criminal.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 125 million people are in contact with asbestos at their workplaces, and every year more than 107,000 people die as a result.
One of the characteristics of asbestos diseases is the long latency period – the time between exposure to it and the manifestation of symptoms. For mesothelioma it can be 10-40 years. This means that someone who was involved in asbestos production in the 1960s may have been disease-free for many years, but could be diagnosed with mesothelioma today.
Although asbestos was banned in Italy in 1992 – and elsewhere in Europe in 1999 – it is still largely used in Brazil, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. Mexico was the leading destination for US asbestos products, accounting for 39% of exports, but the US claims to be dependent on asbestos imports to meet manufacturing needs and, without a ban, imports and exports continue. Last year, all the asbestos the US imported was chrysotile from Brazil.
Asbestos is banned in six Brazilian states yet, despite the WHO resolutions, it is still widely produced and has been a valuable commodity for the past 50 years. In 1995, Abrea, the Brazilian Association of People Exposed to Asbestos, was formed by hundreds of former workers in Osasco, São Paulo state. The former asbestos-cement capital of Brazil is nowadays the capital of the asbestos victims’ movement.
Fernanda Giannasi, a founding member of Abrea and former inspector with the federal labour ministry, is an outspoken advocate for the rights of people exposed to asbestos to receive justice and medical treatment. “We will not give up. The Italian verdict does not stop our fight against asbestos in Brazil. We want justice for our victims,” she said.____________________________________________________________________________________Brazil’s asbestos industry: the human cost – videoBrazil’s asbestos industry is exacting a terrible human toll. Up to 15,000 Brazilians die of asbestos-related diseases annually – 10% of the global total – but the industry’s ties with government, and even the medical profession, ensure there is no political will to heed the World Health Organisation’s call for a worldwide ban on the substance. Here, factory workers lay bare the suffering caused by their exposure to asbestos, while a University of São Paulo pulmonologist warns of the ‘uncontrollable epidemic’ ahead if Brazil fails to listen to the warnings sounded by campaigners