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16 December 2015

Asbestos-cement manufacturing workers live 20 years less than the general population

Former Belgian asbestos-factory workers who died of asbestos-linked disease lived 20 years less than their counterparts in the population at large. Such is the conclusion of a Belgian demographic study of two cohorts of workers from three asbestos-cement factories linked to the Eternit – now Etex – group.

The demographers of the association for the development of applied research in the social sciences (ADRASS) studied 100 deaths of workers from the Coverit factory in Harmignies in Hainaut and 137 deaths of those formerly employed at the Eternit plants at Kapelle-op-den-Bos (Flemish Brabant) and Tisselt (Antwerp). All the workers in question, most of them manual workers, were born between 1900 and 1970. At Harmignies the average life span of the victims was 61.93 years, as compared with 82.70 among their counterparts in the population at large; in the Eternit factories in Flanders, the difference in life expectancy between asbestos workers and the population at large was estimated at 21 years. Almost all of the deaths studied were male, with just 7 women among the victims.

During the presentation of the research findings in Brussels on 12 December, the demographers and representatives of the Belgian Association for Asbestos Victims (ABEVA) also paid tribute to the late Michel Verniers, a former worker and union delegate at the Coverit factory. Noting a significant number of deaths among his former co-workers in the years after 1987 when the factory closed, Mr Verniers began to compile a list of deceased and sick workers, a list which, according to André Lambert, one of the demographers at ADRASS, ‘was the starting point for our work.’

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To read more about the whistleblowing work undertaken by Michel Verniers, see the article which first appeared in the Hesa Newsletter in 2007:

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