Families demand Yale revoke degree of convicted asbestos billionaire

Families of those killed by asbestos-related illnesses are demanding that Yale University revoke an honorary degree given to a Swiss billionaire who was convicted last week of aggravated manslaughter in the deaths of over a hundred people linked to asbestos exposure.

The effort is spear-headed by AFeVA (or the Associazione Famigliari Vittime Amianto), an Italian group made up of family members of those killed by asbestos exposure, and targets Stephan Schmidheiny, a former CEO of a Belgian asbestos cement company called Eternit. Eternit operated multiple asbestos mines and cement product manufacturing plants on multiple continents that exposed workers to harmful, cancer-causing asbestos.

Asbestos refers to a group of six different minerals that have been widely used in building materials and as a fire retardant. People exposed to asbestos are at increased risk of developing lung diseases, particularly mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the thin lining of the lungs. Just 10% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma live more than five years beyond their diagnosis.

Last week’s conviction gave Schmidheiny a 12-year jail sentence over the deaths of hundreds of workers and residents due to asbestos exposure in Casale Monferrato, an Italian town that hosted one of Eternit’s largest factories until the plant’s closure in 1986. About 50 new cases of mesothelioma are still reported in Casale Monferrato each year, according to The Guardian.

Schmidheiny could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for Schmidheiny told The New Lede that his legal defense plans to appeal the verdict.