Mesothelioma is an avoidable disease. If governments had first acted when the asbestos hazard was known, the incidence of this deadly cancer would, by now, be much lower. And yet, despite the evidence documenting the deadly consequences of asbestos exposure, governments turned a blind eye to an industrial sector which was generating thousands of jobs, huge revenue streams and generous political contributions. In some countries, they still do. It is truly staggering to think that since 1920, 194 million tonnes have been used worldwide.
In February 2012, a landmark verdict handed down by an Italian Court found executives guilty for their roles in the asbestos deaths of thousands of Italian citizens; the defendants were sentenced to 16 years in prison and fined millions of euros. This was the first time that corporate decision makers had been held to account for such crimes. In November 2012, French Judge Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy arrested Martine Aubry, a senior official in the French Ministry of Social Affairs, over asbestos allegations. The Magistrate, whose caseload focuses on health-related issues, has charged Aubry with “involuntary manslaughter and causing bodily harm by negligence” due to the government’s failure to implement a 1983 European Union directive designed to improve the safety of asbestos workers. Two other officials are being investigated by the Judge as are asbestos industry personnel.
It is long past time for us to ask why asbestos was used despite all that was known and who made the decisions which allowed the lives of so many innocent people to be jeopardized. People, especially those whose lives have been impacted by mesothelioma, deserve to know what dynamics were at work that created the climate in which the use of asbestos flourished. The French Magistrate is right to question politicians and civil servants as well as asbestos lobbyists and executives. We would do well to follow her example.
About Laurie Kazan-Allen
Ms. Laurie Kazan-Allen has been researching, writing and campaigning on asbestos issues for more than twenty years. The British Asbestos Newsletter, the quarterly publication she founded in 1990, is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative contemporary sources of information by the UK community of asbestos activists. In collaboration with international colleagues, in 1999 she established The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS). As the IBAS Coordinator she has organized and/or participated in asbestos events on six continents, amongst the most recent of which was an asbestos hearing at the European Parliament.
As an adviser to the UK All Party Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group, Ms. Kazan-Allen helps organize the annual Parliamentary asbestos seminar. Kazan-Allen has written prolifically about asbestos issues in 85+ issues of the British Asbestos Newsletter and in IBAS publications such as Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial, Report on the Asian Asbestos Conference 2009, India’s Asbestos Time Bomb and Killing the Future – Asbestos Use in Asia. These and other texts can be accessed on the websites: www.britishasbestosnewsletter.org and www.ibasecretariat.org
On March 25, 2012, Ms. Kazan-Allen became the first non-Australian to receive the prestigious Emeritus Professor Eric G. Saint Memorial Award at a ceremony held in Perth, Western Australia.