Norwegians campaign for PCB clean-up

Local authorities reported keen on collective lawsuit against major producers

One of Norway's leading environmental NGOs has launched a campaign aimed at extracting financial compensation for clean-up costs from former producers of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

There are thought to be 300-400 tonnes of PCBs in the Norwegian environment, much of it in sediment at the bottom of harbours and fjords. According to the Norwegian Society for Nature Conservation (NNV), a recent operation by the national coast guard to remove 40kg of PCBs from its west coast headquarters of Haakonsvern cost NKr80m (euros 9.9m). The cost of any nation-wide clean-up is estimated at NKr5-15bn.

Under current legislation, the owner of affected areas is responsible for cleaning up PCB or other contamination. Local authorities and other public bodies are the main organisations affected. A study commissioned by the NNV, however, concludes that manufacturers and producers, and in particular a number of multinationals, could be held to account if it were established that they had withheld information on the PCB content of their products and/or the environmental hazards of PCBs. Electronic identification of "chemical fingerprints" leading to the producers would be a straightforward operation, says the group.

Several local authorities are reported in Norwegian newspapers today to be enthusiastic about bringing a collective lawsuit against some of the major suppliers. They include the capital, Oslo, where harbour officials plan to remove 500 tonnes of contaminated mud at a cost of NKr50-100m.

Conservationists claimed last year that Norway had failed in its commitment to clean up PCBs among other toxic substances despite the commitment of successive governments under the Hague and Esbjerg declarations and the OSPAR convention, and notwithstanding a government ban on the production and use of PCBs as early as 1980, and on transformers and capacitors larger than 1kg since 1995.

Follow Up:
NNV, tel: +47 22 99 33 00.

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