2012, a crucial year in the global fight against asbestos

2012, a crucial year in the global fight against asbestos

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By Paco Puche

The general scenario in which we move is the following: the World Health Organization (WHO) has manifested itself not long ago [1], about the state of affairs, unequivocally: “In the world there are about 125 million of people exposed to asbestos in the workplace. According to the most recent WHO estimates, occupational exposure causes more than 107,000 deaths annually from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. It is estimated that a third of occupational cancer deaths are caused by asbestos. In addition, it is estimated that each year there are several thousand deaths attributable to domestic exposure to asbestos ”. If we take into account that exposure outside of work (domestic and environmental) represents about 30% of the total, the figure rises to about 142,000 deaths from asbestos every year in the world and thus, at least, until 2030 in the case of that at this time there would be a worldwide ban on extraction and use. As this is not the case, and as of today more than 125 countries still do not have this prohibition, we will have to add more years of death and suffering.

The terrible figures can be approximated, despite the fact that the world registry of these diseases is undervalued by ignorance, confusion and concealment throughout the 20th century. For example, although asbestos has been banned in all European countries since the 1990s, every year more and more people will continue to die, until reaching a peak or maximum in 2020 and then decreasing. By 2030, counting from 1995, an estimated 250,000 men will have died of mesothelioma in just six Western European countries (Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands) [2]. If we take into account that the approximate number of deaths from lung cancer is twice that of mesotheliomas, and we add asbestosis and other asbestos diseases, raise that figure in 2030 to about one million deaths from asbestos already banned, in those six countries, it is not exaggerated. There is the rest of the world to add, the rest of the time, and there are women who also die from asbestos due to domestic and environmental causes, mainly. The global figures of 10 million deaths for what we have used so far since 1900 are not exaggerated either. For Spain these figures, due to past exposures, it is estimated that they will reach more than 80,000 deaths considering all asbestos diseases, half of them to come.

These macro figures, which appear to us to move people to greater indignation and awareness, do not always have this logical effect. One explanation is that our reason and our psyche are limited. As Günther Anders states, “We are scrupulous about killing a man; we feel less for killing a hundred men; and none for wiping a city [like Hiroshima and Nagasaki] off the map ”. But the facts are stubborn and end up prevailing if socially, with our militancy, we build a sufficiently aware collective imagination.

The balance of the prohibition

We ended the year with 54 countries that have prohibited the extraction and use of asbestos or have severe restrictions. The following table shows us the historical dynamics of the sequence of these prohibitions.

Implementation Years Number of countries No. per year
2002-2010929 (includes Mongolia)3.2

(Source. Laurie Kazan-Allen. IBAS secretariat)

The world map tells us that the countries in which it is not prohibited are the majority and comprise two thirds of the world's population, although it must be said that current consumption is half of what was used in the 1970s and Eighties of the last century when Europe and the US were the countries that consumed the most, and that now have it prohibited or in low consumption. As bad news, it must be noted that Mongolia, which was on the list in 2010, was removed from it this year, due to the cancellation by its government of the ban.

Casale Monferrato (Turin): the people against Schmidheiny

The most important event of the year, which takes place in the month of February, is the historic sentence in what has come to be called "the trial of the century." For the first time, the owners of a company are condemned as those most responsible for what happened in it. They are the Swiss magnate Stephan Schmidheiny and the Belgian Baron De Cartier, owners of the Eternit company in Italy. They each receive 16 years in prison, and compensation to be paid to victims and interested parties of around 100 million euros.

As witnesses of the solemn reading of the same in the Court of Turin, we related the event as follows:

“In the midst of unprecedented expectation, with people coming from all over the world and with more than a thousand people listening patiently to the reading of the sentence, which lasted three hours, on February 13, a great sentence the time that a before and after was marked for the whole world, in relation to the tragedy of asbestos.

“On behalf of 2,191 dead and 605 sick, more than 6,400 civil parties had appeared. As the president of the room was reading the sentence, the atmosphere that flooded the atmosphere was that of some names (they had to be mentioned each and every one) that raised blisters among the public. It was not be for lowerly. This lawsuit had been initiated by a lawsuit filed by the victims or their relatives in 2004.

“In 2009, the previews began, and it was in December of that same year that the trial itself began. In 2012 we celebrated the final verdict, eight years between one thing and the other. But the tragedy began in 1906 when the asbestos factory was installed in Casale Monferrato, a town near Turin. Since then, the workers and townspeople have been contaminating until 1986, when Schmidheiny closed the factory, left the premises and "fled." If someone thinks that this abandonment has canceled the problems, they are wrong with the lethality of asbestos. To this day, one person per week still dies in Casale from past exposure to asbestos: at the factory, at home or in the village "

The convicted men have not appeared at trial and will probably not serve their sentences when they are final. They have amassed enough money to flee to any of the golden paradises that they already possess on account of the lives of so many people. But they will not be able to rest because new lawsuits are being prepared against Schmidheny, the so-called Eternit 2 case, which affects foreign workers who were hired in the tycoon's factories in Switzerland.

The philanthropic foundation of the super rich of asbestos called AVINA (financed by Viva Trust), which has thousands of partner-leaders subsidized by Spain and Latin America, has come out in defense of its protector and has signed a manifesto [3] in "I support our founder." In Spain it is signed by six people, very few for the network that they maintained during the past decade and for the amounts of aid, subsidies and trips that they paid. But we must highlight two: that of Xavier Pastor, who was director of Greenpeace and ended up expelled from the organization and that of Víctor Viñuales, director of Ecodes and member of the advisory council of the unpresentable firm Inditex, continuously denounced for the treatment given to the workers in their maquila companies. As the list of adhesions is not closed, other support is to be expected from people who are grateful to the magnate, which are relevant, such as Sandra Benveniste, who was once the head of AVINA in Spain, or Pedro Arrojo who had a privileged treatment from the tycoon, in the decade that he promoted the foundation around the world.

Spanish victims against Uralita

Uralita is the company that has led the hegemony of the asbestos industry in Spain. It is like Eternit for Italy, in fact at some time this multinational had a stake in Uralita and both coincided in the asbestos cartel, established in 1929. So much so that in our country corrugated sheets and asbestos-cement pipes are known with the name of uralitas. The company was under the dominance of the March bank. At present the entity, which has passed into other hands, is still called Uralita. It has not had to change the name when the name should be greatly discredited, given the slaughter that accompanies the asbestos industries. The reason is very simple: there has not yet been enough response to this industry.

Neither sufficient answer nor, from the judicial point of view, any penalty. As Viçent Navarro says “never, no businessman from Uralita has gone to jail. While the workers are still trying to get the courts to force Uralita to pay compensation to those affected by asbestosis (…) and when they got them the amounts were clearly insufficient [In Spain they range between 40,000 and 200,000 euros]. Thus, from 1996 to 2004, it is observed that of the 21 lawsuits filed against Uralita, only two judicial decisions have been favorable to the workers.

The situation has changed. It is enough to remember what the law firm, the Colectiu Ronda, tells; They say that: “in 1980 they won the first sentence against Uralita. The defunct Central Labor Court reversed the sentence. That is not why they gave up their efforts. But all the sentences were rejected or revoked by the Courts until reaching that of H.M. in 2007 ”. And, subsequently, the judgment of July 2010, in the case of Cerdanyola, where the Court of First Instance of Madrid sentenced Uralita to pay close to 4 million euros to 45 residents, for damages from domestic or environmental exposure, not labor. Unfortunately, the appeal that the company filed has just been ruled in favor of it, because without going into the merits of the matter, the Provincial Court of Madrid has considered that the time for claiming damages had expired (judgment 361/2012). There is a cassation appeal to which those affected will resort. This is one of the bad news of this year.

But 2012 has given another judicial surprise. In February, once again, Uralita was ordered to pay 1.7 million euros to 23 workers affected by asbestos in the factory that existed in Getafe. The novelty, which is hopeful, lies in the fact that, as the president of the Asbestos Victims Association (AVIDA), Juan C. Paul, declared in his day, “it is the first sentence that Uralita has won in the jurisdiction of the social , and it can create a precedent in Madrid where all the cases had been lost ”. The reason for this, Paul continues, is that "we have detected a change in the judges, who are more aware of and understand the harm caused to workers exposed to asbestos."

The world's victims' associations against Schmidheiny

Faithful to his maneuvers of distraction, Stephan Schmidheiny has tried to take advantage of the meeting in Brazil, in June, of the United Nations (UN) on sustainable development, called Rio + 20, to legitimize himself once again as a green philanthropist. Obviously, after knowing everything you know about asbestos, that the most important tycoon in that industry tries to pass for a defender of life and the environment, it is too crude and shameless. And it no longer filters. For this reason, Schmidheiny's attempt to return to the leading role of this UN conference, as he did in Rio 92, has been warned and answered by the thousands of victims who do not forget him. From the EEU and Brazil associations, a protest letter has been extended to the world, addressed to the President of Brazil, for this magnate to be declared “persona non grata”; It is specified by saying that "as a criminal convicted of causing an environmental disaster, Mr. Schmidheiny must be prohibited from participating in this event for the protection of the future of our planet Earth." The letter was signed by social organizations and individuals and, in a short time, obtained thousands of signatures. Ecologists in Action and the Nueva Cultura del Agua Foundation should be highlighted as Spanish signatories. The latter's case is very significant, by way of rectification, because it is an entity that received AVINA subsidies for several years and was directed quite a few years by Pedro Arrojo, the partner-leader of the aforementioned.

Canada's great and pleasant surprise: the other great hope of the year

Canada was, among rich countries, the only country that did not have (and still does not have) prohibited the extraction and use of asbestos. But, curiously, it practiced a blatant double standard: it had the fifth largest mining company in the world but everything extracted was used for export, mainly to China and India. It also had the Chrysotile Institute, made up of scientists who promote the controlled use of asbestos, the largest global lobby on the subject.

The great news is that both the Institute and the last mine, the Jeffrey mine that was left open have been closed. On September 4, the defeat of the pro-asbestos government of Quebec was the last nail in the coffin. Current Prime Minister Pauline Marois, who has publicly pledged to revoke a multi-million dollar loan offered to asbestos companies, has made clear her intention to withdraw all support for the toxic industry and help affected communities by building a asbestos-free future. At the last International Victims' Meeting in Paris, in October, Canadian Pat Martín, suffering from pleural plaques, announced the end of the extraction and export of asbestos in his country. And he said: “I love my country, but I bow my head in shame when I say that Canada exported human misery all over the world. I call the asbestos industry evil and corrupt, "and claimed that government support for asbestos producers has meant" corporate welfare for serial killer companies. " A criminal history that has lasted a hundred years has ended.

The bad news is Russia, the world's leading asbestos mining power

(it extracts a million tons and exports three-quarters) has taken the role left by Canada in defending the controlled use of asbestos-chrysotile.

The situation in Brazil

This great country, which extracts 302,000 tons from its mines (the third world power in this area) and exports about 50%, has a peculiar legal situation. Of its 27 states, five have prohibited the use of asbestos, in terms of population it affects 90% of the total, but the operating companies have managed in some states to continue with the extraction while waiting for the Supreme Court of the nation to rule on the constitutionality of the use of asbestos throughout the territory. At the end of the year, the decision had been put on hold, but the Victims' Associations (ABREA) have placed great hope that the general ban and the closure of the mines will be achieved shortly.

International meetings

Three important international meetings of associations of victims and fighters for the prohibition have been held: one in Brussels, in September, another in Paris, in October and the third in Bangkok, in November. The Brussels conference culminated in the presentation to the European Parliament (Committee on Employment and Social Affairs) that requested that the EU set a deadline for the complete deamiantization, no later than 2023 and a strategy for the disappearance of asbestos-related diseases. The Paris Days had the support of the Senate and culminated with a large demonstration of victims from around the world and Bangkok has been the confirmation that the Asian continent is the place with the highest incidence of the problem today and that it is necessary to fight to urgent prohibition measures be implemented throughout Asia.

From all this, it can be seen that the fight against asbestos in all its dimensions (about the attention to the victims, about the prohibition and about the achievement of justice and punishment for the maximum culprits) continues to advance unstoppable.


In the world, until now and since 1920, some 200 million tons of asbestos are scattered in all kinds of devices and installations, often mixed with cement. Miró's work that opens this work shows us that it has been used for everything. In the year that is ending, it has been confirmed by the International Ban Asbestos that asbestos has been used even in Antarctica, that highly protected world biosphere reserve. And a British doctor who worked in 1960 on an Australian base has been known to have died of mesothelioma.

It has also been found that 50% of British schools have been manufactured or contain asbestos. Therefore, the inventory of all the sites that contain the mineral is urgent, especially those that affect the most vulnerable people such as children and the sick, and that dates be given to the dismayed in the EU, as has already been done in Poland that has a plan to eradicate installed asbestos in 20 years.

... And a woman, like a hero in the middle of so much disaster

She is a neighbor of Casale Monferrato and president of the association of victims of her town for 25 years. You have seen how five of your relatives (husband, sister, cousin, nephew and daughter) have died within ten years, because of the asbestos company that Schmidheiny, the philanthropist, had in his locality, and that it closed leaving all the asbestos scattered around, including the Po river in which the company was de-cluttering. All except the husband had not worked in the factory. He comes from the town, is from a working family, is 82 years old and continues to preside with integrity, pride and dignity over any assembly, demonstration or event against asbestos held in his town or in his region. He is not exasperated, he is patient. And that is why this year I have given him the immense joy that he had expected thirty years ago: to see that justice is sometimes done. When he testified at the Turin trial he affirmed “I don't want revenge, I want justice. I only wish those responsible who live in their meats a single case of mesothelioma disease ”. She is the mirror to look at. Her name is Romana Blasotti.

Farewell of the year

The year 2012 has been a year of hope for many victims of, and fighters against, toxic substances at work and in the environment, as far as asbestos is concerned.

As they say at the end of a year, I hope 2013 is at least as good as the one we have left! The cause needs it urgently. It will depend on continuing and increasing the fight. We will hope to be there, together with Romana.

Video: Indias Asbestos Time Bomb (June 2022).


  1. Grorg

    Has not absolutely understood, that you wished to tell it.

  2. Phillip

    It is obvious in my opinion. I will not say this subject.

  3. Malakree

    You won't do anything here.

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