Tuesday, July 15, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Sydney residents ready to file huge pollution lawsuit
Halifax lawyer filing papers represents more than 200 families

By The Canadian Press

Sydney - A lawyer representing more than 200 Sydney residents will give notice of intended action this week on a massive lawsuit that claims pollution in the Cape Breton community caused widespread health problems and even death.

Raymond Wagner of Wagner and Associates in Halifax said Monday his law firm will issue a notice of action within days to the Nova Scotia government. The notice will contain about half of the more than 200 claimants in the suit.

"It's better to get as many under one claim as we could and this seems to be a neater, cleaner way to do it than to have several multiple actions," he said.

A notice of action has to be filed against the province before litigation can move forward.

That's not the case, however, for the other defendants, Nova Scotia Power Corp., CN Railway, the federal government, and Domtar, a company that ran a chemical refracturing plant next to the Sydney Steel coke ovens.

There is another potential defendant Wagner wasn't willing to disclose publicly.

Once the notice of intended action expires two months from the time it's filed, a statement of claim is then issued.

It is at that time the other defendants are brought into the civil action.

The first family to file suit against the province back in May will be included in this statement of claim.

Linda Lirette, who now lives in Brampton, Ont., with a daughter and grandchildren, lost her husband Pius Joseph Lirette to cancer a year ago.

She stated in the claim filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on May 15 that her late husband was exposed to carcinogenic chemicals emitted from the Sydney Steel plant when he was growing up in Whitney Pier, a Sydney neighbourhood.

The family is seeking damages for personal injuries and mental distress due to his death.

Four other Lirette family members who lived in Whitney Pier were also diagnosed with cancer.

Wagner said a meeting held in Sydney in early June caught the interest of more people willing to sign up as claimants.

Since that meeting, the list of residents has grown from about 160 to 204.

"There's a lot of people still expressing interest and are actively considering joining in the action as well," he said.

It's believed the claimants will be seeking compensation in the tens of millions of dollars.

Wagner said with the number of claimants, and at least one or maybe two statements of claim to come, litigation could take years and possibly cost more than $500,000.

"We feel we're going to have to push this and push it aggressively, and that's what we intend on doing," he said.

The area around the closed Sydney Steel plant and the infamous tar ponds was described by the federal government several years ago as Canada's worst environmental mess.

The ponds themselves contain 700,000 tonnes of tarry, toxic sludge produced by a century of steelmaking in the heart of Sydney.