A verdict in the groundbreaking trial over the Eternit asbestos disaster in Italy has been handed down, with a former executive and a shareholder each receiving 16-year prison sentences for their roles in the incident.
Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner of the Eternit fiber cement company, and major shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne were sentenced in absentia after they were found guilty of violating safety regulations and creating an environmental disaster.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports the disaster was responsible for more than 3,000 asbestos-related deaths. The families of these victims had waited anxiously for the trial for years.
“This trial will go down in history… but it will not bring my dad back,” Piero Ferraris, whose father died of lung cancer in 1988 after working in a local Eternit factory from 1946 to 1979, said following the verdict.
Sentence longer than usual due to continued fall-out
The crimes committed by Schmidheiny and de Cartier typically carry a maximum 12-year sentence, but prosecutors successfully argued that the effects of the asbestos disaster continue to affect victims in Italy, according to the news source.
The trial began in 2009 following a five-year investigation into the matter, and it represents the largest such case against a multinational company for its role in asbestos-related deaths. Eternit went bankrupt prior to asbestos being banned in Italy, AFP reports.
“I have never seen such a tragedy. It affects workers and inhabitants… it continues to cause deaths and will continue to do so for who knows how long,” prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello said during his closing speech in November.
Defense attorneys had argued the two men were not responsible for the asbestos disaster, according to Reuters.
Trial, verdict shed light on deadly effects of asbestos exposure
The Eternit trial was monitored carefully around the world by the asbestos community, particularly as the carcinogenic substance is still widely used in developing countries.
Exposure to asbestos, which was once prized for its resistance to fire and utility as an insulator has been known for decades to cause a number of serious illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.
The effects of these illnesses can be seen across the globe, as the World Health Organization estimates approximately 107,000 people succumb to these diseases each year.