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In Dunkirk, the tireless battle of “widows of asbestos” for a criminal trial

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – DENIS CHARLET – | Members of the group of widows of asbestos march on March 18, 2010 in the streets of Dunkerque, to protest against the administrative delays in the processing of their file.

Workers in the iron and steel industry or on a shipyard for decades, they have been “poisoned by asbestos”. In Dunkirk (North), their widows fight tirelessly so that one day, in France, a criminal trial is held for “involuntary homicides of the officials”.

In the back of a room of the Regional Association for the Defense of Asbestos Victims (Ardeva), in Dunkirk, posed against the wall, the portraits of their missing husbands glued on placards. The “widows of asbestos” have waved them dozens of times during silent walks around the courthouse to demand this trial.

Among them, Ginette Handtschoewercker, one of the first. Lucien, her husband, began working at 14 years as a bridge builder in Ascométal. “He died at age 58, in 1994, of lung cancer after 15 years of operations, suffering, which spoiled our lives,” she says.

“It is the hospital that has announced the possible link between its disease and asbestos”, this cheap insulating material widely used in many sectors of industry and construction until its complete ban in 1997. “This is the first time I have heard this word.”

At his side, Rosalba Chelkowski, whose husband, Jean, worked 42 years as an electromechanic in the steel industry at Arcelor Mittal.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – PHILIPPE HUGUEN – | On 20 June 2009, widows of employees who were victims of asbestos laid flowers at the foot of a stele dedicated to the memory of their deceased relatives.

“He retired in July, six months later, he was in chemo, died the following year, what a retirement we had, nothing, the children had finished their studies, we had finished the house, We could be happy, but we could not share anything, “she said.

“Wanting to” replace her husband with money “, she takes two years to take steps to obtain recognition of her illness as related to asbestos and thus benefit from compensation through Fiva (Asbestos Victims Compensation Fund).

“I ended up doing it when one of his former chiefs assured me that there was no asbestos where Jean was working: pain, I became angry,” says Ms. Chelkowski.

– ‘Lives sacrificed’

“I’d rather see the officials in jail rather than get money!” Chantal Pakosz, whose husband died of a mesothelioma, cancer of asbestos.

According to health authorities, exposure to asbestos could cause up to 100,000 deaths by 2025.

“Those responsible for these thousands of dead, who have made a profit on the lives of our husbands, who have sacrificed our lives, must pay,” said Marjorie Le Veziel. Her husband, Serge, also died at 53 years of mesothelioma after working at the Dunkirk shipyards (Normed).

The Ardeva association in Dunkirk has 2,660 members, victims of asbestos, widows, but also widowers: “Many women have died while cleaning the labor blues of their husbands,” says Pierre Pluta, 71 , President of the regional association, who says that “684 members of the association have died because of asbestos” since its creation in 1996.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – PHILIPPE HUGUEN – | Widows of employees who are victims of asbestos gathered in Dunkirk on 20 June 2009, in front of a stele dedicated to the memory of their deceased relatives.

So, Mr. Pluta multiplies the procedures with the victims and their relatives so that one day a criminal trial will take place. Although several employers have been convicted in the courts of social security for “inexcusable fault”, on the criminal side, since the first complaint in 1996 for “unintentional homicides and injuries”, no trial has taken place in France .

And on June 13th, it was a further blow: the Paris public prosecutor’s office demanded the end of investigations in about twenty criminal investigations, including that of the Normed, considering that it was impossible to determine with certainty when the victims Been intoxicated.

It is a “contempt of the victims”, for Pierre Pluta, for whom, “if a non-place is pronounced, it would be tantamount to issuing to the officials a + license to kill”.

In the case of the Normed, justice must pronounce on September 15 on the indictments of several protagonists.

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