Nicosia district court has awarded the last damages in a class-action suit where the plaintiffs were suing Astrasol, former shoe sole manufacturers, for toxic gas emissions.
On Monday the court awarded a combined €433,000 in damages to six plaintiffs, relatives of three people who contracted cancer as a result of the factory’s operations and its use of dichloromethane R40, a chemical classified as ‘likely to be carcinogenic in humans’.
The compensation is for special damages (cost of medical care), violation of the right to life, and bereavement.
In a tragic twist, the original plaintiffs and cancer sufferers have since passed, with their relatives replacing them as the plaintiffs in court filings.
The class-action suit, involving 22 plaintiffs overall, was filed back in 2010.
In December 2017 the court had found that government services and the Astrasol shoe factory in Latsia were inadvertently liable for creating a cancer cluster for people working in and living near the factory.
Those found guilty were: Astrasol itself; Fivos Liasis, one of the directors of Astrasol; and the state via the attorney-general (on behalf of the labour inspection department, the ministry of health and the town planning department).
The government departments in question were deemed responsible for allowing the factory to continue operating without the necessary permits, and for not taking steps to mitigate the toxic emissions.
The court had determined at the time that it would be issuing separate judgments relating to the compensation amounts, as each case was different. Thus Monday’s compensation decision concerned the last batch of plaintiffs.
Damages had been awarded for two other batches of plaintiffs in May and June of this year.
But the case is far from over: the defendants have appealed the liability decision. Meanwhile the plaintiffs, represented by lawyer Loukis Loukaides, have filed a counter-appeal on the grounds that the damages awarded are too low.
In addition, five more plaintiffs are expected to sue the factory (now shuttered) and the state in separate lawsuits.
Despite the low damages awarded, the case is nevertheless considered a milestone – the first ever in Cyprus where someone has been found legally liable for toxic atmospheric emissions.
The chemical itself, dichloromethane R40, is not a banned substance. Rather, the factory was guilty of having exceeded designated emissions limits.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail on condition of anonymity, one of the plaintiffs earlier awarded damages for losing his wife to cancer described the whole affair as a “massive crime.”
He and his wife had purchased a plot of land in Latsia to live there. Little did they know at the time that a warehouse situated right next to their residence would be converted into the polluting shoe sole factory.
“I remember the factory would operate non-stop from 6am to 1am the following day… loud banging all the time, it was unbearable,” he said.
The victims acknowledged by the court as having died as a result of the factory’s operations had suffered from a variety of cancers, including brain tumours, leukemia and liver cancer.