Wednesday, December 3, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Residents file another Sydney Steel lawsuit
Health, property damage alleged

By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau

Sydney - Another lawsuit has been filed against the province and the defunct Sydney steel plant by dozens of Whitney Pier residents.

Some 80 people, most still living in the area, claim they continue to suffer the effects of pollution from the plant, which closed in 2000, and the nearby coke ovens, which shut down in 1988.

"The intended plaintiffs have been chronically exposed to various contaminants and carcinogenic chemicals emitted by the intended defendants and deposited . . . in the air, soil and water of Sydney," reads a statement of claim filed Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

A statement of claim contains unproven allegations that must be tested in court. Two years ago, government tests of soil on a half-dozen Whitney Pier streets determined hundreds of residents have a theoretical risk of developing cancer or other illnesses from constant exposure to dust and vapour from contaminated land or basements. The chemicals are similar to those found at the steel mill, tar ponds and coke ovens, such as arsenic, lead and cancer-causing, fuel-based polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The plaintiffs allege the chemicals and government's failure to minimize their potential effects have hurt their physical and mental health and properties.

The suit specifies "loss of use and enjoyment of property . . . including extensive business and personal losses," as well as inability to sell, finance or mortgage contaminated properties.

"The intended defendants' negligent conduct has caused the plaintiffs to suffer from chronic anxiety about their own and their respective families' personal health, safety and well-being."

A study of air emissions in Sydney described "ore dust" that rained on the area from the provincially owned steel operation. For example, in January 1970, about 521 tonnes of dust fell on every square kilometre of Sydney.

The Attorney General of Nova Scotia is listed as a defendant in the action as regulator of the environment.

A federal study in the mid-1980s warned the province not to reopen the coke ovens without pollution controls, or risk seeing an escalated increase in illness or death of Sydney residents.

Several government studies since then, including one last year, determined Sydney has one of the highest incidences of cancer deaths in Canada.

The plaintiffs, represented by Wagner and Associates, plan to seek unspecified general, special, punitive and aggravated damages for personal injuries or mental distress, as well as costs and other relief.

The law firm has filed two other similar suits against the province this year involving more than 100 plaintiffs.