Eternit building executives convicted for asbestos-related deaths in Italy

An asbestos removal specialist looks for asbestos fibers in the small Dutch village of Vroomshoop on Jan. 14, 2008.
Vincent Jannink

Two former building company executives were convicted in Italy today for 2,200 asbestos-related deaths. The Turin court said that Stephan Schidheiny and Jean-Louis de Cartier, shareholders at the Eternit building firm, broke safety rules by allowing thousands of workers to come in contact with asbestos fibers at four of their plants. BBC News reported that both of the shareholders were sentenced to 16 years in prison for negligence.

Italian Health Minister Renato Balduzzi hailed the verdict as "without exaggeration, truly historic," reported the Associated Press

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In addition to prison time, the defendants in the case were also ordered to pay $32.5 million to the town of Casale Monferrato, where one of the factories that used asbestos in construction was located, and $26 million to the Piedmont region, according to the AP. 

The Daily Telegraph reported that the trial is "the biggest of its kind" against a company for asbestos-related health problems.

Asbestos, mainly used in building insulation, is now known to cause lung cancer in people. 

Eternit closed its operations in Italy in 1986, six years before Italy banned asbestos, The BBC reported. And Europe banned asbestos in 2005. However, asbestos is not banned in the United States. Though it has not been mined in the US since 2002, asbestos is still imported to the US. The US Geological Survey said that 1,100 tons of asbestos were consumed in the US in 2011. 

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