1901 with the name Eternit. The manufactured goods - used mainly for roofs and waterpipes – is commonly called “eternit” after the name of the manufacturing company. The name comes from the Latin word aeternus, meaning "of an age, lasting, enduring, permanent, endless".
Different Eternit companies are still currently actives around the globe: some dealing with asbestos (e.g. the Brazilian company Eternit SA ), others using alternative fibers after the ban imposed in their countries (e.g. the Switzerland Eternit AG).
Asbestos is a mineral widely employed in the past decades because it is fireproof, heatresistant(for these reasons in the Middle Ages was called "salamanders' wool"),
soundabsorbing and a good insulator. The name itself, from the ancient greek ἄσβεστος, means "inextinguishable".
There are various kinds of asbestos (six naturally occurring silicate minerals) and all of them consiste of long fibres. One asbestos fiber can be 13.000
times finer than a human hair and it could cause serious illnesses when inhaled. Among the commercially exploited ones, the white asbestos (Chrysotile) is still widely used in many countries while the more hazardous to the health, Crocidolite or Blue asbestos, has been banned worldwide.
Where was the first factory built in Italy?
In Casale Monferrato, in 1906. It employed thousands of people till the closedown in 1986, the year of the bankruptcy and it was finally demolished in 2006, at the end of a complexdecontamination process. In Italy there were more Eternit factories in Cavagnolo (Piedmont), Bagnoli (Campania), the ICAR plant in Rubiera of Reggio Emilia (Emilia Romagna) and Siracusa (Sicily). Italy hosted also the biggest western Europe quarries of white asbestos, in Balangero, 32 km from Torino (closed in 1990).
When did start the inquiry which has led to the current criminal trial in Torino?
a statement of claim was presented on behalf of an Italian worker who had worked at
Eternit in Switzerland and had died for mesothelioma. Soon after, a maxi statement was sent from Casale with a thousend names of people who had got ill or died because of asbestos. Raffaele Guariniello
is the public prosecutor who investigated for 5 years, then remanded for trial the main stakeholders of the multinational company Eternit, a Belgian/Switzerland ownership that leaded the Italian plants of the group from 1952 to 1986.
Have there been other criminal proceedings against Eternit in Italy?
At the beginning of the '80s about 200 workers of Eternit had proceeded against the Italian occapational healthcare institution (INAIL) because the board had refused to pay the risk compensations, since Eternit had certified the adoption of safety measures for the factory in Casale Monferrato. A report showed, on the contrary, that the danger still existed. At the beginning of the '90s some local managers of the plant in Casale Monferrato were sued. Four of them were finally sentenced on June 18th, 1993 for manslaughter and occupational damage: three years and four months of prison to Luigi Giannitrapani and Giovanni Battista Parodi, two years to Luigi Reposo and one to Giuseppe Tavella. Nobody actually went to jail.
Who are the defendants in the new trial?
The top people of the multinational Eternit: the Swiss tycoon Stephan Schmidheiny and the
Belgian Baron Jean Louis Marie Ghislain De Cartier de Marchienne. As main stockholders of theBelgian /Switzerland multinational company Eternit, they have been responsibles for the Italian plants of the group also: De Cartier de Marchienne from 1966 to 1972, Schmidheiny from 1976 to the end, in 1986. This is the first time that a criminal case related to the asbestos industrial tragedy is directed to the international owners of a multinational company.
The defendants are on trial in absence: the Belgian Baron is 88 years old andreject any charge while Stephan Schmidheiny (currently a green entrepreneur and a philanthropy with a personal fortune of nearly £ 1.9 billion) consider himself a champion of sustainable development and the one who turned asbestos company into a clean, asbestos free, industry. They have to answer for failure of voluntary safety standards and permanent intentional environmental disaster.
Because, after the factory closed, they didn't do anything to eliminate the risks of an environmental contamination and this is still going on in Casale Monferrato as well as in the other cities which hosted the plants. The reclamations carried out so far have been paid by the community. This special formulation of the charge, including the word "permanent", is what allows that it wouldn't expire during the long period of the trial ongoing in Torino.
Which diseases are caused by asbestos?
Asbestosis and some cancers. Asbestosis is caught through a prolonged exposure and therefore it mainly concerned the workers in the quarries and in the factories. Asbestosis implies a reduction in breath capacity and can be mortal. Among the most frequent forms of malignant cancer there are the lung asbestos carcinoma and the mesothelioma, of the pleura or of the peritoneum, for which no tretment has been found, yet. Mesothelioma usually appears 20/50 years after the exposure to asbestos and the average survival time of a victim is 1,5 years after its diagnosis. Around 500,000 people die every year because of asbestos, according to WHO.
Who is exposed to cancer risk?
Not only the people who have worked the asbestos but also common people because the fibres have spread in 80 years' production. A lot of rejected materials were sold below cost, especially the “polverino” (asbestos dust) used to cover courtyards or roofs.
How many victims in Casale Monferrato (35.000 citizens) had been determined during the last 30 years?
More than 1,000 Eternit workers (or from other factories where there was asbestos) and more than 500 citizens who never worked with the fibre.
How many diagnosis of asbestos cancer in Casale in 2009?
Over 50. The peak is expected in 2020, in Casale ,however, it might occur earlier because the Eternit factory was closed in 1986 and the reclamations started earlier than anywhere else.
When was it understood that asbestos caused death?
There have been surveys which speak of its danger since the '20s and even more since the '50s and '60s.
In Casale a team of doctors of “Santo Spirito Hospital” carried out a survey among the patients affected by mesothelioma in 1973-1983 and they found a very high percentage of cases.The results of the survey were shown by the Head Physician of General Medicine at a meeting in 1984.
Did the people know that asbestos was a killer?
The workers did but the risk was unclear and understated by the company.
Some of them tried to protect themselves using masks or overshoes but it was useless. Among common people the perception of the danger was lower.
Is asbestos still used?
No longer in Italy, since 1992, with the Act 257. In Casale Monferrato the Mayor forbade the use of asbestos in 1987. The European Community definitively banned asbestos in 2005.
On a global scale, 53 countries already imposed a national ban while activist, scientists, unionists and institutions from all the world are demanding for a total ban of asbestos, facing the opposition of a powerful industrial lobby.
Where's asbestos mined and worked in the world?
In South America, Africa, India, China, Russia and Canada. Nowaday, Kazakhstan, Russia and Brazil are the main asbestos producers while Canada, historically considered as the main asbestos lobbyst, is attempting to re-open the mines closed during the last decades. The consumption of asbestos goods is increasing in the world, due to the economical trends in the emerging countries.
In 2006, 2.3 million tonnes of asbestos were mined worldwide, in 11 or 12 countries. Russia was the largest producer with about 40.2% world share followed by China (19.9%), Kazakhstan (13.0%), Canada (10.3%), and Brazil (9.9%).