Follow the Italian example: prosecute Eternit's former bosses

2 August 2005

Follow the Italian example: prosecute Eternit's former bosses

The Italian Ministry for Public Affairs has decided to prosecute former Eternit bosses for responsibility for the deaths of a large number of their ex-employees. Socialist Party (SP) Member of Parliament Krista van Velzen is to demand that Secretary of State Pieter Van Geel explain whether he intends to instigate a similar procedure in the Netherlands.

Van Geel should begin by recounting the extent of the damage to public health and soil pollution this firm has caused. A recent publication from the SP's research bureau demonstrates that Eternit knew all about the dangers of asbestos, yet nevertheless went ahead with the production of asbestos-based goods and the distribution of asbestos waste to the firm's employees, who used it to pave yards and paths.

In previous debates the SP has repeatedly urged that Eternit be prosecuted. According to the Secretary of State there was insufficient evidence that Eternit was at the time aware of the dangers. In addition he concluded that there was no proof that the different Eternit branches in different countries were linked. The fact that one firm knew of the dangers of asbestos could not be taken to mean that others had the same knowledge. Despite this, he promised the SP last year that he would meet with Eternit to seek a solution.

When the meeting took place, Eternit insisted to Mr Van Geel that they were not liable and said that they did not wish either to help establish or to participate in a fund for the decontamination of the asbestos-polluted soil. In their opinion, the company was not responsible for the fact that either asbestos cement products or their waste products had in some places found their way directly into the soil.

The SP's research bureau's report ‘Het asbestdrama’ (The tragedy of asbestos) revealed earlier this week that Eternit has in fact since the 1950s known all about the dangers of asbestos, despite which they went ahead with its production The book also makes it clear that Eternit companies deliberately impeded the development of alternatives. It provides sufficiently persuasive evidence to enable Mr Van Geel to open legal proceedings.

The report will be available in English in pdf form next month.

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