MAC: Mines and Communities

Ontario Government Settles Lawsuit over Port Colborne Nickel Pollution

Published by MAC on 2004-03-01

Ontario Government Settles Lawsuit over Port Colborne Nickel Pollution: Inco’s ‘poor community relations’ also highlighted in Globe Report on Business feature

Environmental Defence Canada

For Immediate Release: March 1, 2004

Toronto, Ontario – Inco now faces a proposed $750 million class-action lawsuit alone after the Ontario Ministry of the Environment agreed to settle with the Port Colborne, Ont. resident who launched the action on behalf of thousands of families from the area.

Elevated levels of nickel, likely in the form of nickel oxide which Health Canada has identified as a known human carcinogen, have polluted homes and parks in a neighbourhood surrounding Inco’s Port Colborne refinery. Documents show that Inco, the Ministry of the Environment and municipal officials knew for years that the area was polluted, but failed to inform residents. To date, no compensation has been paid, testing is far behind schedule and clean up efforts are stalled.

"The Ontario government will be taking a completely neutral position from this point forward, leaving Inco to face the music alone," said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence Canada. "Everyone knows what happened when David got his chance to face Goliath alone for the first time."

Inco’s poor track record in Port Colborne and in its global operations was highlighted Friday by the Globe and Mail in a Report on Business magazine cover feature on Corporate Social Responsibility. Calling it "the most important issue of the century so far", Inco received a failing grade of 46 out of 100, almost at the bottom of the mining companies surveyed. Based on data collected by independent rating service Michael Jantzi Research Associates, Inco was directly sited for its "poor community relations record at home and abroad." In looking at the mining sector, the survey concluded "despite some improvements, many companies still tend to dig in their heels when dealing with local communities. This can backfire. Inco, for example, has had its reputation tarnished by a bitter fight with residents of Port Colborne, Ont., over elevated nickel levels in soil."

"Inco keeps saying it’s doing the right thing in Port Colborne, but one of Canada’s most influential business newspapers rates it as a backfire. If Inco wants to be seen as a good corporate citizen, it needs to realize its current approach in Port Colborne and elsewhere will continue to tarnish an already poor reputation," said Smith.

The proposed $750 million class-action was launched in March, 2001 against Inco, the Ontario government, the Region of Niagara, the City of Port Colborne and the area’s public and Catholic school boards. All parties except Inco and the Ministry of the Environment settled before court hearings in 2003. The Plaintiff recently served notice that he is seeking leave to appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal from lower court decisions which declined to certify the claim as a class proceeding.

The settlement with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment is subject to court approval under the Class Proceedings Act. However, as a result of the settlement it is unnecessary for the Ontario government to make further court submissions or appearances. The terms of the settlement, which become effective immediately, involve the Plaintiff’s abandonment of his appeal against the Ontario government, the execution of a release from this court action, Ontario’s waiver of legal costs awarded against the Plaintiff to date, and other terms concerning the confidentiality of the settlement. The remaining terms of the settlement only become relevant at such time as appeals by the Plaintiff and Inco have been exhausted and court approval of the settlement is sought. Consequently, the parties have indicated there is no need to discuss the other terms of settlement at this time and the parties have agreed not to.

Environmental Defence Canada has been assisting families in Port Colborne for more than two years in their fight to require Inco to clean up its pollution legacy in the town.

About Environmental Defence Canada

Founded in 1984, Environmental Defence Canada ( provides Canadians with the tools and knowledge they need to protect and improve the environment and their health. We are a national, charitable organization committed to engaging the public, finding solutions, and protecting the environmental rights of future generations.

For more information contact:
Jennifer Foulds
Communications Director
Environmental Defence Canada
Tel: 416-323-9521, Ext 232;
(cell) 647-280-9521

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info