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Ciba pollution leads to legal challenge in US

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The Swiss speciality chemicals company, Ciba, is facing a class action lawsuit in the United States, after more than 100 people living near one of its former factories contracted cancer.

The lawsuit says products which may cause cancer escaped from the former Ciba-Geigy plant into the drinking water supplies of the town of Toms River, in the state of New Jersey. It calls on Ciba to finance the medical monitoring of the town’s 35,000 residents.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said their case was based on the findings of a study carried out by the health authorities in New Jersey and the federal office for toxic substances. The report, released in February, found that Ciba-Geigy had infested the drinking water in Toms River with dyes and Nitrobenzol.

The study described the former factory as a public health hazard.

Ciba has long recognised the widespread pollution it caused at Toms River, where it made dyes, additives and plastics from 1952 to 1996. Ciba has spent about $200 million on trying to repair the damage since 1983, when the site was listed among the top 100 most polluted areas in the United States.

“The ground water was contaminated by Ciba, and we fully realise that,” said spokeswoman, Donna Jakubowski. “We have been working with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency since the early 1980s to clean up the contamination that is at our site.”

However, Ciba insists that drinking water was never infected.

“We have studied this contamination for years,” Jakubowski added. “Based on all the studies and the information that we have, we feel that this contamination has not impacted the public drinking water.”

“The primary contamination lies 35 to 75 feet [11 to 25 metres] directly below our site and just a small portion of an adjacent neighbourhood. Right now the ground water is contained. It is not spreading. And we are currently pumping it and treating it.”

Jakubowski said that the company was sympathetic to the concerns of the plaintiffs, but that Ciba did not feel responsible for their claims and would strongly defend its position.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR