Stephan Schmidheiny, a Swiss billionaire who took over leadership of the industrial empire Eternit Switzerland in 1976, was a major manufacturer of asbestos-containing products in Europe and Latin America for many decades. As late as 1981, one of Eternit’s plants in Italy was still using 15,000 tons of asbestos every year, resulting in over 2,000 asbestos-related deaths in the region. In 2007, a report from Maule found that the asbestos factory quintupled the risk for malignant mesothelioma among residents who lived as far as 11 kilometers away from the plant.
Schmidheiny achieved significant work in the field of sustainable development, and was the chief advisor for business and industry at the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. To honor these accomplishments, Yale University granted Schmidheiny an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for Environmental Stewardship in 1996.
Recently, a group of asbestos victims and their families – collectively known as Asbestos Victims and Relatives Association (AFEVA) – have voiced protest against Yale’s honorary degree, and taken steps to have it revoked.
AFEVA is not alone in this debate. The Italian courts have charged the Swiss billionaire with failing to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of asbestos dust and fibers, creating an environmental disaster as a result. In June 2012, a court in Italy found Schmidheiny guilty of causing the deaths of thousands of Italian citizens. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. However, since Schmidheiny was not present at the trial or appeal, he was tried “in absentia” and is still currently a free man.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another disease as a result of asbestos exposure, please contact The Law Office of Brown | Kiely, LLP today or call (410) 625-9330 to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our experienced Baltimore asbestos attorneys. We represent asbestos victims in Maryland, Washington D.C., and surrounding areas.