Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

28 March 2013

Switzerland: Victims of Asbestos Speak Out - Part 2

My companion, who died from mesothelioma at age 69,
believed he had been exposed to asbestos while
working on railroad engines in Belgium at age 19.
The daughter of a victim of asbestos who died of mesothelioma, questions the responsibility of Eternit, the asbestos factory where her father worked during three summers as a student. “In Switzerland, the statute of limitations is ten years. The law must change. Here the industrial lobby is so powerful that my hopes rest more on the creation of an international tribunal.” The industrial lobby is indeed very powerful in Switzerland: asbestos, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications. The emerging public health issue of serious illnesses related to the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted by wireless technology has been compared to the growing catastrophe of asbestos-related diseases. Let the example of asbestos be a lesson to all of us. The 10-year statute of limitations must be changed in Switzerland because it will make it impossible to legally recognize a cause-effect relationship between EMR-related illnesses and wireless technologies, given that the potential serious illnesses which may result, such as brain cancer, usually declare themselves only after 10 years’ exposure. 

Testimonies : The Forgotten Swiss of Asbestos 
by Xavier Filliez, L’Illustré, 22 February 2012 (translated from French)

Clément Fenu, 65, carpenter, on invalidity insurance, afflicted with pleural plaques due to exposure to asbestos

“I feel stabbing pains in my chest”

Clément Fenu walks his cocker Xena two times a day in the neighboring wood. It is nearly the only effort he is able to make. “At the foot of the stairs, I am already exhausted. My breath is at 57%.” His state of health is a confusing affair. It is clear to him that the culprit is asbestos. His ordeal started with a pulmonary embolism with pleural effusion in 2006. This big scare is not directly attributable to the harmful product that he inhaled against his will and handled for years, first at Fiez (canton Vaud), at the foot of the Jura, where he grew up “beside a factory which stored asbestos sheets”, then worked in a woodworking shop installing insulation and redoing roofing. I put down kilometers of Eternit sheets. We received the insulation in bulk, in sacks of asbestos wool.”

Over the years, the diagnosis became clearer. Clément has “pleural plaques”, that is, lesions of the pleura due to exposure to asbestos as “plain as the nose on one’s face. It’s certain, I did not catch this on the beach in the Caribbean.” There is now intense daily pain. When, during the night, these “stabbing pains” are not too strong, he sits in his bed and branches electrodes to his thorax. “I don’t want to take pain medication that is too strong. It makes me groggy. I want to confront my pain with my eyes open. Generally, after a session of an hour and a half, I go back to sleep.” Xena also falls asleep, at the foot of his bed in her basket.

If the cause-effect relationship between pleural plaques and asbestos is established by doctors, that between these plaques and Clément’s pain have not. That is a trait of pleural plaques. Thy can be asymptomatic. Yet it is because of his pain that he is now incapable of working. It is, for the moment, the invalidity insurance ((AI) which pays his annuity while his lawyer, Charlotte Iselin, tries to have the case of her client recognized as a “professional illness” by SUVA (Swiss accident insurance fund). At 65, Clément, a former experienced sportsman, boxer, judoka, cyclist, would like to find his breath again and calm his pain. But he fears above all that they will announce one day that he has mesothelioma. His resentment is also directed against the asbestos industrialists. “They did not do what they could. Even after 1989, the date of banning asbestos in Switzerland, I was placing “Eternit” on roofs. And asbestos has still not been removed from all the buildings.”

Sylvia Rechsteiner, daughter of Gian Rechsteiner, former civil engineer, dead from cancer of the pleura due to asbestos

“A student job killed my father.”

Forty-three years free from worry. And then, the cursed asbestos fibers made their way towards his lungs. The story of Gian Rechsteiner relates all the treachery of this deadly particle. It is 1960. Gian is 17 years old and his mother has found him a student job at the Eternit factory in Payerne. He spends three summers carrying sacks of asbestos cement. Only three summers. The rest of his life will be devoted to building dams as a civil engineer. Far from asbestos. In 2005, however, all of a sudden, a mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura) takes him away at age 62. His daughter, Sylvia, pays tribute to the incorrigible optimist that he was. Including when the diagnosis of the lung specialist was delivered. “You have a 5% chance of pulling through,” he said to him. Papa immediately replied: “I’m sure I’ll be among the 5%.” But the substance did not shrink.

For a long time cowering, the disease struck him down in less than two years. Death announced itself the day after Easter weekend, when Gian Rechsteiner coughed a lot, “the doctor found water in his lungs. Then a biopsy revealed asbestos fibers.” “The problem was breathing. The side effects of chemotherapy were also very painful,” recalls Sylvia. “He had his lung removed, then experienced a short period of remission. Afterwards, the other lung was affected. At the end, he had to have oxygen, the lungs no longer functioned. Mama kept him home as long as possible with a night nurse.” No doubt about the cause of the cancer which SUVA recognized as a professional illness. The insurance paid compensation: 7,000 francs monthly for loss of income before death, then 5,000 francs to his widow and 42,000 francs capital. To have recognized his suffering is in fact already a small victory in that world. “We did not have to fight to obtain compensation. We are among the lucky…” admits Sylvia, who is however troubled. On the diningroom table, the family drama is recorded in a file. Skimming through it reopens wounds. Charlotte, her mother, died last December, taking with her “the revolt” which sparked her since the death of her husband. Sylvia Rechsteiner, more disheartened than militant, questions the responsibility of Eternit. “In Switzerland, the statute of limitations is ten years. The law must change. Here the industrial lobby is so powerful that my hopes rest more on the creation of an international tribunal.”


1 comment:

  1. Clement's story is quite sad.
    I feel bad about Sylvia's story. It's so sad to loose a loved one knowing that their death is as a result of someone else' greeed


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