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Shoe factory and government negligence created ‘cancer cluster’

Nicosia district court

Government services and now-defunct shoe factory Astrosol were inadvertently responsible for creating a ‘cancer cluster’ for people working in and living near the factory, Nicosia district court ruled on Friday.

Class-action lawsuits were filed against Sotiris, Maroula and Fivos Liasis, Astrasol ltd, the official receiver as liquidator Liasis shoelast company ltd, the attorney-general for the labour inspection and town planning departments and the Latsia municipality.

They were headed by Theofanis Chrysanthou and Constantina Barka, the parents of 11-year-old Stavros who died of cancer.

In total, 21 people filed suits, claiming that for over 30 years Astrosol used dichloromethane R40 in processing its shoe soles, a chemical which has been classified as ‘likely to be carcinogenic in humans’.

The plaintiffs blame it for the different types of cancer that have struck former employees and residents near the area.

In its 171 page ruling the court said: “From 1976 to 2009, the systemic emission of toxic gas dichloromethane R40 which is potentially carcinogenic created a cancer cluster in the area in question.”

The company closed down in 2009 due to financial troubles.

The court found that the attorney-general bears responsibility for the majority of the plaintiffs as the state’s responsibilities on monitoring pollution were violated.

The labour inspection department failed to carry out any waste gas emission measurements at the factory from July 1999 to June 2004, when Astrasol received its certificate of registration process.

After the factory received its waste gas emissions licence, the department failed in its duties again because, despite readings showing the levels of dichloromethane were too high to be acceptable, ‘it did not take any measures to terminate the illegal operations of the factory’, the court said.

The labour inspection department granted the two licenses to Astrasol despite the factory failing to have the proper planning permit.

“The town planning department, despite knowing that Astrasol had not obtained a planning permit for the mass production of shoe soles, did not take any court measures to put an end to this unlawfulness.”

It was also aware that the dichloromethane used by Astrasol was potentially carcinogenic and therefore that the factory which put the chemical to use would not be eligible for a planning permit, court said.

That means the company owner, Astrosol and the attorney-general are responsible for any damages incurred by the plaintiffs.

The factory and its owner committed the civil offence of private nuisance against the plaintiffs who lived near Astrosol, the ruling added.

There was insufficient evidence to find the remaining defendants Sotiris and Maroula Liasis, the official receiver as liquidator Liasis shoelast company ltd and Latsia municipality liable against the plaintiffs.

The court issued a decree separating all the lawsuits so that the compensation for each plaintiff will be decided separately.

Head of the fight against cancer committee Ionas Kkailis said: “We were waiting for years for this decision and we have finally found justice.”



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