Mar 14, 2001

Chemical firms targeted over toxic ship paints

Friends of the Earth's Norwegian branch is calling for at least two chemical firms to be taken to court after linking polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) in Oslo harbour sludge to their ship paint products. The study was commissioned by the local municipality, which wants to launch a clean-up operation but doesn't want to shoulder the entire costs, estimated at NKr 200 milliion (euros 24,4 million).

In the spotlight are Bayer and Solutia (formerly Monsanto), and to a lesser extent Japanese firm Kanegafuchi Chemicals Industry Co. Having demonstrated through "chemical fingerprints" what it says is a strong link between these companies' products and PCB in Oslo harbour sludge, the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (NNV) is demanding that they be forced to pay at least half the costs of any clean-up operation.

Oslo has one of the most polluted harbours in Norway, according to NNV, with PCB levels of up to 4,000 parts per billion. Successfully launching court action against any of the targeted chemical firms "could set an international precedent" for environmental liability, according to the group's Tom Erik Økland.

According to Mr Økland, the companies have known since the 1960s that substances they sold to shipyards were very toxic and had low biodegradability. "The basis of a suit will be negligence liability linked to the fact that the companies have omitted to inform the recipients of the product of its PCB content and/or the possible harmful effects of this," according to Oslo law firm Advokatfirmaet Føyen & Co, which collaborated with NNV on the report.