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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Asbestos Victims Ask Yale to Revoke an Honorary Degree

An Italian organization representing victims of asbestos exposure has asked Yale University to rescind an honorary degree awarded to the owner of the company they once worked for.

In the mid-1970s, Swiss billionaire Stefan Schmidheiny took over his family’s business. The Eternit company had plants around the world that produced asbestos cement products. The largest was in Casale Monferrato, Italy.

Connecticut lawyer Christopher Meisenkothen represents shipyard workers and boiler makers who worked with asbestos here in the U.S., and later developed diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. He is handling the Italian request to Yale, pro bono.

Meisenkothen described notes from an Eternit company meeting in the 1970s. "Clearly," he said, "they were acknowledging in 1976 that the workers were at risk. The plant continued to use asbestos for many years after that. They could have given the workers respiratory protection, [or] installed exhaust fans. And the worker testimony from workers at the time consistently indicates that there were no serious precautions taken in the plant."

Two years later, Schmidheiny began to dismantle the company's asbestos processing concern. He went on to use his wealth to support eco-friendly sustainable development in other parts of the world.

In 2012, Schmidheiny was tried in absentia in Italy. He was found guilty of causing the deaths of thousands of people in Casale Monferrato, and has been sentenced to 18 years...

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