Asbestos Victims Demand Worldwide Ban

Anti-asbestos activists from around the world have called for a worldwide ban on the hazardous building material and for companies that use it to be brought to justice.

Asbestos, which can cause fatal illness, was banned in the European Union in 2005 but is still used in developing countries, activists said in Italy’s northern city of Turin this week.

The meeting reiterated calls for the dangerous fibrous material to be banned across the world, and for an “end to impunity” for companies that use it.

“There is no reason asbestos should be used. It’s beyond sense; it has killed people,” said Sanjiv Pandita, among several dozen activists at the event.

“This is just the greed of lobbies who want to earn money at the expense of people’s lives,” said Pandita, head of Ban Asbestos association’s branch in Asia.

About 6,000 people have joined in the largest class action suit ever on asbestos contamination, which opened in Turin in December.

The suit involves shareholders of a construction company accused of responsibility for the deaths of more than 2,000 Italians from asbestos-related diseases.

The Turin meeting, organised by Ban Asbestos, backed a push for an end to the “impunity of those responsible for the world catastrophe of asbestos,” said Ban Asbestos France spokeswoman Annie Thebaud-Mony.

Asbestos use is “booming” in India, said Madhumita Dutta, a representative of Ban Asbestos India. “We import a lot from Russia and Canada and most is used as housing material for poor people.”

But in Brazil’s Sao Paulo region, a law banning asbestos was judged constitutional in 2008 after companies had appealed against it, said Mauro de Azevedo Menezes, a lawyer for the Brazilian association of asbestos victims.

Prosecutors say the Turin trial is the biggest ever held on the effects of exposure to blue asbestos, a mineral that was banned in Italy in 1992.

The plaintiffs – employees as well as residents of four Italian cities where the group had factories – are expected to seek several hundred million euros in compensation.

One of the defendants is Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of the Swiss group Eternit who was an important shareholder of the Italian company of the same name.

The other is Belgian Jean-Louis Marie Chislain de Cartier de Marchienne who was a minority shareholder and administrator of the Italian company.

“We are awaiting a sentence that will establish jurisprudence. Asbestos entrepreneurs knew exactly what the health consequences would be,” said Thebaud-Mony.

Across Europe, victims’ relatives battle statute of limitations terms – such as Switzerland’s 10-year period – that stymie efforts to obtain compensation.

Symptoms of asbestos contamination such as lung cancer and fibrosis normally do not appear for some 20 years, Francoise Bonvin, who lost her husband to the disorder when he was 48, said in Turin.

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