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On 19 November 2014, the highest court in Italy acquitted one of the former managers of Swiss group Eternit, Stephan Schmidheiny, sentenced in the appeal court in 2013 to 18 years’ prison and €89 million in damages for a “health and environmental disaster”. He was reproached with not having taken measures to prevent asbestos-related health risks when he was perfectly aware of them.
The Advocate General, Francesco Mauro Iacoviello, considered that the offences had exceeded the time limit for prosecution since 1998, i.e. 12 years after the closure of the last Eternit factories on Italian territory. The Supreme Court’s decision was a shock in Italy, especially for the population of Casale Monferrato, the town where Eternit had set up its biggest factory and recruited a large part of the population. The workers there worked without protection and took their work clothes covered with asbestos back to their homes, thereby exposing their wives and children. Moreover, numerous witnesses reported that trucks laden with asbestos passed through the town, onto which ore dust was discharged. This explains why a large number of families were affected by diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. 1,800 of the 35,000 inhabitants apparently died because of asbestos in the last few decades.
On 20 November, the shopkeepers of Casale Monferrato lowered their curtains for a day as a sign of protest and grief.
The legal battle of the 5,000 plaintiffs is not ended. Other proceedings, called the “Eternit two trial”, are currently in progress. Mr Schmidheiny is being prosecuted for intentional homicide.