MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2005-06-28


by Laurie Kazan-Allen
International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

28th June 2005

Eight former Eternit executives were found guilty of “intentional homicide” by an Italian tribunal on May 27, 2005. The charges related to life-threatening health and safety offences which took place at an asbestos cement factory at Contrada Targia, a small seaside town on Sicily. The lives of up to 730 former Eternit employees were put at risk by exposure to hazardous levels of asbestos over an extended period of time; as a result many contracted asbestos-related diseases. Prison sentences of more than twenty-three years were passed on the accused which included a sentence of 2 years and 4 months for Leo Mittelholzer, head of the factory between 1984-86; Mittelholzer is now the Managing Director of Siam City Cement 1. Thailand's second largest cement company.

Lawyers representing the families of 44 deceased workers and 300 ex-workers, who have doggedly pursued this claim over the last nine years, were delighted with the judgment; Silvio Aliffi said: “As the tribunal decided that health and safety measures had been voluntarily neglected by these executives, we can now take action against those at the very top of the Eternit organization.” Prosecutor Andrea Palmieri commented:

“This judgment is unique. This is the first time that an Italian tribunal has succeeded in proving the culpability of company executives for voluntary negligence on health and safety issues.”

The verdict for the Italian plaintiffs validates legal actions currently being taken by Swiss Eternit workers in Niederurnen and Payerne and the on-going efforts of Asbestopfer2 and CAOVA,3 NGOs representing injured workers in German and French-speaking communes in Switzerland,

The Sicilian factory, built by Eternit, Belgium, was acquired by Stephen Schmidheiny (Eternit, Switzerland) under whose ownership it operated from 1974-86. When the factory closed in 1993, due to Italy's ban on asbestos, the machinery was discreetly exported to North Africa. Neither the factory nor its environs have been decontaminated; asbestos cement waste continues to pollute the coastline.

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