Global Efforts to Bring Asbestos Manufacturers to Justice

In Italy and Brazil, extraordinary legal efforts are holding manufactures responsible on a global scale for the harm they have spread and continue to spread throughout the world.

NEW YORK, New York, September 26, 2013 – In Turin, Italy, prosecutors earlier this year secured a ground-breaking verdict holding Swiss and Belgian asbestos cement manufacturers both criminally and civilly responsible for the devastating diseases suffered by the workers in the factories and members of the exposed communities, as well as the continuing environmental contamination.

The two substantial shareholders of Eternit, Stephan Schmidheiny and Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, were held criminally responsible for recklessly exposing thousands of workers at four factories and people in the communities surrounding those cement factories to deadly asbestos. Schmidheiny and de Marchienne were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in jail and more than $50 million in fines.

Eternit had manufactured asbestos-containing roof coverings and pipes, and while it did not operate in the United States, representatives of the company had participated in lobbying efforts and hearings regarding the EPA’s proposed ban of asbestos cement pipes in the United States.

Successful prosecutions in Italy have encouraged efforts by states in Brazil to ban the use of asbestos. On August 31, 2012, the Brazilian Supreme Court heard seven hours of testimony during their final public hearing to review the constitutionality of the State of São Paulo’s law that prohibits the use of asbestos. Dr. Barry Castleman, who had testified in the Turin, Italy trial against Eternit, and Dr. Arthur Frank were among those U.S. experts opposed to the use of asbestos who testified in Brazil. Many of the lay witnesses who testified in Brazil had similarly contracted deadly and debilitating asbestos diseases from Eternit’s factory in Brazil, just as those who suffered in Italy.

While asbestos use in the United States has been greatly curtailed since the U.S. began to implement regulations restricting its use in the 1970s and 1980s, unfortunately it is still not “banned” in the United States as it has now been in many industrialized nations. Though no longer intentionally mining asbestos and though most asbestos-containing products are no longer in production in the United States, the U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Study for Asbestos in 2010 reported that the United States still intentionally consumes around 715 tons of asbestos annually. Despite bans on some asbestos-containing products, asbestos product manufacturers have repeatedly launched successful attacks against regulations on the state and national level attempting a total ban on the use of these deadly minerals. From the manufacturers efforts, asbestos is still “allowed” in the United States in products such as ceiling tiles, floor tiles, dry wall, automotive brake pads, clutches, and gaskets, some building insulation, and asphalt roofing shingles.

Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Zimbabwe still mine asbestos, and many have large reserves of the deadly minerals on hand. These countries produce and export both raw fiber and asbestos containing products around the world, with India, China, and Russia being among the world’s largest users of asbestos containing materials. However, the tide is turning. Canada’s future mining prospects in Quebec ground to a halt in early 2013 when the newly elected government in Quebec refused to honor the previous government’s commitment to lend $58 million that would have allowed the Jeffery Asbestos Mine to restart production operations.

Levy Konigsberg LLP continues to be part of a galvanized cross-border effort to eliminate the use of asbestos and the international exchange of information that becomes vital evidence used to fight for the victims of manufactures who used and continue to use asbestos contaminated products despite knowing the deadly effect.

Our asbestos attorneys have brought countless asbestos companies to justice in the U.S. while representing patients and their families in court. As a result, many of those companies were brought to justice for the first time. Our lawyers have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of our clients, and obtained numerous landmark and record-setting asbestos verdicts.

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