Guilty Verdict in First Ever Criminal Trial of Asbestos Magnate

Today in Turin, Italy, a criminal court issued its a guilty verdict in the criminal trial of Stephan Schmidheiny and Belgian baron Louis de Cartier for creating an environmental disaster that has claimed over 3,000 lives.  The prosecutor had asked the 3-judge panel to sentence the defendants to 20 years each in jail - they got 16 years each instead. 

Schmidheiny and the baron owned and managed a company called Eternit that made asbestos-cement building products in many countries in Europe, South America, and South Africa.  The defendants are charged with failing to take reasonable measures to protect the workers and communities around their factories from asbestos.  Neither of the defendants has appeared in the trial. 

Assunta Prato, asbestos widow and another member of the Casale community group, said, “The deaths of our beloved were not from natural causes but by the greed of some people. We hope the judgment will deter the people who say the same lies now in other countries that were said in Casale 30 years ago. We hope that compensation ordered by the court will demonstrate that the production of asbestos is no longer good business anywhere in the world.”

"Our battle is a battle for civil justice, not a request for economic compensation" said Romana Blasotti Pavesi, 82, President of Association of Families and Victims of Casale Monferrato, whose husband and daughter and other family members died from asbestos, most from environmental non-occupational exposure.

The World Health Organization estimates over 100,000 people die each year from asbestos, but this may be the first time in the world that executives with the asbestos industry are convicted and sentenced by a criminal court.  Over 1000 asbestos victims and their families from Italy and France are coming to attend the reading of the court's verdict.

The trial has been going on for over two years.  Schmidheiny has a net worth of about $3 billion and has reportedly spent over $10 million a year on lawyers and public relations representatives in this case. 

More information on the Eternit trial from the Italian Asbestos Victims Families Casale (in English) here:

 And here from the U.S. Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO)

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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