Judicial ruling makes it clear: Bill for asbestos clean-up must go to Eternit

3 March 2007

Judicial ruling makes it clear: Bill for asbestos clean-up must go to Eternit

The costs of decontaminating paths and roads constructed from asbestos waste should be covered by Eternit, the firm responsible for them. SP Member of Parliament Remi Poppe has asked the Minister of the Environment what it is that, for the government, continues to stand in the way of this. A court in Arnhem ruled this week that Eternit must be held responsible for the illness of a man whose parents had been given asbestos waste by the firm in 1967. At that time it was common practice for Eternit to give such waste free of charge to people living in the area for use in paving paths and yards, despite the fact that the firm was by then completely aware of the deadly damage inflicted by asbestos, a subject on which it chose to remain silent.

The court's ruling states: “That Eternit was possessed of this knowledge in 1967, considering that they saw clearly before them the health risks to their own workers, should equally have led to the realisation that the large scale and uncontrolled disposal of asbestos cement waste to third parties could occasion serious and difficult to estimate health risks for these third parties."

Remi Poppe"This judicial decision is an important one for the victims of asbestos," said Remi Poppe. "It's to be hope that Eternit resign themselves to the ruling and come to a settlement with all of the other victims, avoiding the need for a long drawn-out legal process."

The judge also made it clear that Eternit is responsible for the asbestos cement waste in paths, yards and roads around the towns of Goor and Harderwijk, many of which have suffered damage, releasing the asbestos dust into the atmosphere. This year sees the start of a third round of decontamination. A national facility to which people can report the presence or suspected presence of asbestos last year received information on 2,100 newly identified polluted locations. These include places where asbestos has been found in the soil, in road surfaces and yard paving, in buildings, and in a range of objects, as well as where it has been illegally dumped. These number far more than did the locations known to the Ministry of the Environment, and costs will therefore run to millions of euros more than was estimated.

The SP has long campaigned for the costs of the clean-up to be recovered from Eternit. “The Arnhem court has brought the possibility of success much closer. The judge stated that the asbestos company is liable for the damaging consequences of asbestos for its victims, even where these have never been employed by the firm. On the basis of this ruling the minister can now recover the costs of the decontamination of the roads, paths and yards around Goor and Hardewijk. I am asking him to expedite this.”

This spring Poppe, together with SP Senator and asbestos lawyer Bob Ruers, will visit Kapelle op den Bos in Belgium. Poppe paid a visit to the area around the Eternit factories in Belgium as long ago as 1997, noting that there also many paths and yards were paved with asbestos waste which the firm had distributed free of charge. “It's at least as bad there as it is in Goor and Hardewijk," he says. "I hope also to be able to help people living in that area to win compensation for damages and have the paths and yards decontaminated. The factories there came under the same management."

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