Asbestos News Roundup: Asbestos Around the World

In Bordeaux, France, a court has ordered the employer of 17 workers whose asbestos exposure forced them to retire early to pay up to $133,800 apiece for lost earnings. The employer, papermaker Ahlstrom Labelpack, must pay each of the 17 workers 35% of their earnings from now until they would have reached the legal retirement age. The company was also ordered to pay approximately $15,000 apiece to each worker as compensation for their stress and anxiety. None of the workers has as of yet developed an asbestos-related disease. The case is important in France because if confirmed it will set a precedent that could affect tens of thousands of other workers. Compensation in French asbestos cases is already expected to total between $18 and $34 billion over the next 20 years. The workers in question already receive 65% of their salary from a government fund established to aid workers forced into early retirement. In Canada, employees of the Marine Atlantic ferry service between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are still waiting for promised asbestos exposure tests. The company promised almost 1,000 workers who served on board the MV Atlantic Freighter the testing in November of 2007, but to date only 72 have been tested. A representative of the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents the ferry workers, says that the uncertainty about their asbestos exposure is causing extreme hardship for the employees.

The union claims that of the 72 workers who have been tested, four or five have shown a potential asbestos exposure. Marine Atlantic says that it has not heard of any worker having a positive test, and claims it will be scheduling additional testing sessions in the near future. In Scotland, the Justice Secretary plans to introduce a bill which will entitle Scottish workers to sue if they develop pleural plaques, a scarring of the lungs which is often a sign of asbestos exposure and which is often a precursor to developing more serious conditions. The bill is strongly opposed by insurers in Scotland, as the current rule is that pleural plaques are not a cause for action in the Scottish courts. Compensation for pleural plaques could run into millions of dollars, according to insurers, which they say is unfair as pleural plaques are not in and of themselves a disease condition. The bill is expected to pass the Scottish Parliament easily as it has backing from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and will put pressure on Gordon Brown, the English prime minister, to introduce similar legislation in England. In Britain, a collision between two trucks in June released 14 tons of asbestos onto a major road. The road was closed for the day so that the asbestos could be cleaned up, and drivers were diverted to other roads for the duration of the cleanup. One driver was slightly injured; no asbestos exposure was reported for the drivers or passers-by.