'The pain is unimaginable': cancer patient to sue SNCB over unsafe working conditions

'The pain is unimaginable': cancer patient to sue SNCB over unsafe working conditions
Credit: Pxhere

A Brussels cancer patient will sue Belgium's national rail company to prove that he developed his illness after being allowed to work unprotected in a toxic, asbestos-filled environment.

Roger Motquin, a 71-year-old Molenbeek native suffers from a type of respiratory cancer linked to exposure to asbestos, a known carcinogen banned in many countries but which was massively used in construction throughout the 19th century.

In an interview with Francophone daily La Dernière Heure, Motquin said he believed his illness was a result of his years of work as a baggage handler for SNCB/NMBS at Gare du Midi.

Motquin said that he had worked in the station during the time when asbestos-removal efforts were underway in the 1990s and that employees were not informed of the risks.

"We were never informed, never received preventive [guidance], we never had any of that," Motquin said. "We knew there were extensive works planned in the 90s but we didn't know what it was about."

"I walked up and down that station, we worked with nothing but an apron."

"We have met with union representatives regarding this situation and the health state of this former employee," Elisa Roux spokesperson for the SNCB said in an email statement. "We are investigating the matter internally."

Despite his current situation, the former rail employee looks back warmly on his time working at Belgium's busiest rail station, from which he holds treasured memories.

"It was really great, it was a different experience every day," he said. "It was something I loved," he added.

"I even carried the bags of King Baudouin on the 10:25 PM train from Midi — he was taking the last train out, it was a long time ago," he recalled during the interview.

Motquin, who today says he suffers from "unimaginable" pain, is now preparing to sue the SNCB for bodily harm and to have his illness recognised as an occupational disease for which he receives "astronomical" medical bills.

"Maybe there are others who have the same cancer and don't know it yet," he said, according to BX1. "Some colleagues have died from symptoms similar to mine — the pain is unimaginable," he added.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from an SNCB/NMBS spokesperson.

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