MAC: Mines and Communities

Lawsuit filed in Sweden for arsenic poisoning in Chile

Published by MAC on 2013-09-16
Source: Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC)

Seven hundred victims sue mining giant Boliden over toxic waste

Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC)

16 September 2013

In 1983, Sweden's largest mining company, Boliden, had to dispose of 20,000 tons of lead and arsenic contaminated smelter waste accumulated over the years at its Ronnskar plant, one of the most heavily contaminated sites in Sweden. Boliden explored several options for disposing of its waste, but ultimately chose to ship it by boat to the remote city of Arica in northern Chile, where it would supposedly be safely "recycled" by a small, unknown Chilean company that was paid to accept it.

It was well known at the time that the law would soon change and prohibit Boliden from shipping such waste to a developing country. And at the exact same time that Boliden shipped the waste, it recited in a patent application that no company in the world had yet succeeded in developing a process to render the highly toxic material safe.

A city is poisoned

The waste was left sitting uncovered at the edge of the city, within one mile of the port. Children romped on this toxic playground for years, and lead and arsenic dust blew into the surrounding area as well. Houses were built within yards of the waste pile, and people hauled the waste in wheelbarrows to use in building their houses. The government has recently concluded that the area surrounding the waste site is still contaminated, and that people living in the area should be relocated.

The real victims: children

Hundreds of cases of arsenic and lead poisoning have been identified in Arica over the years, including the newest victims: children born years after the toxics were brought to Arica. Arsenic is a powerful toxin, and each of the victims in the lawsuit has been tested and found to have a dangerously high level of arsenic in their bodies. Among other things, these levels put the victims at a significantly greater risk of developing various cancers, as well as respiratory problems.

The case goes to court

EDLC recruited teams of lawyers in Sweden and Chile to investigate a potential case. The lawyers have developed their factual and legal claims, working with a team of scientific and legal experts from the U.S. and Chile. Over the years, Boliden has repeatedly been asked to compensate the victims for the harm resulting from its actions. Each and every time it has refused, including earlier this year. Having no other choice, seven hundred victims of the company's carelessness filed a lawsuit this week in Sweden against Boliden seeking compensation for the permanent damage to their health.

More information about the case can be found on the EDLC website

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Chileans sue Swedish mining firm for $13.9 million

Cecilia Jamasmie

16 September 2013


A group of 707 Chileans from the northern city of Arica sued Swedish mining company Boliden on Monday, demanding $13.9 million (91 million kronor) in compensation for health problems allegedly caused by the dumping of toxic waste near their homes in the eighties.

News agency EFE reports (in Spanish) that Boliden paid $1.5 million (10 million kronor) in the mid-eighties for local company Promel to take care of 20,000 tonnes of toxic waste that was ruled too dangerous to be kept on site in Skellefteå, far northern Sweden.

Locals claim the waste includes high levels of arsenic, lead and quicksilver, and that it has caused them health problems such as cancer, breathing difficulties, rashes, aching bones and miscarriages.

In 2007 Chile's Supreme Court ruled the country's government had to pay about $5.4 million to the 356 inhabitants of Cerro Chuño, a community in the Arica region, in compensation for related health issues caused by Boliden's toxic waste.

But Boliden has so far rejected any responsibility in the matter. In a statement Monday it said it regrets what happened in Arica, but argues the responsibility lies with Chilean authorities that allowed houses to be built near the dump site.

It also blamed local company Promel, the one Boliden paid to take care of the waste.

Boliden focuses on copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver, employing around 4,500 employees.

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