Canadian Consulting Engineer

Precedent-setting class-action suit allowed for industrial contamination

December 7, 2005
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canada's giant nickel-producer, Inco, is faced with Canada's first class action lawsuit for its alleged contaminati...

Canada’s giant nickel-producer, Inco, is faced with Canada’s first class action lawsuit for its alleged contamination of homes in the town of Port Colborne in the Niagara region of southern Ontario.
The $750-million class action suit was given the go-ahead to proceed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in November. The ruling is said to be “precedent setting,” since in Canada, excluding Quebec, it is the first time a class action suit has been allowed against a company for long-term environmental harm. Other class-action suits, such as the one involving residents of Walkerton, Ontario for tainted water, related to a one-time event. Environmentalists are suggesting the decision on Inco could have repercussions across Canada as it would open up the door for future class action cases against long-term industrial pollution.
About 8,000 plaintiffs are involved in the suit against Inco, charging that over a period of about 80 years nickel and other metals from the refinery have migrated to the soil around their homes and into the houses themselves.
The plaintiffs suit will focus on the devaluation of their property values. However, Health Canada has identified nickel oxide as a known human carcinogen. Documents have shown that Inco, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and municipal officials knew for years that the area was polluted, but failed to inform residents. The Ontario government settled a lawsuit over the pollution in March 2004.
Inco has said it will appeal the decision by the Ontario appeal court to the Supreme Court of Canada.


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