Lynnview lawsuits double at deadline

Two years since toxic find in southeast

Health a real issue to some

Kerry Williamson

Calgary Herald

Pages A1 & 4

Saturday, May 17, 2003

A slew of last- minute lawsuits have been filed against Imperial Oil and two other companies by residents who claim contaminated soil in Lynnview Ridge seriously affected their health and the health of their children.

The 20 lawsuits -- each seeking $300,000 in non- pecuniary damages and an undisclosed amount of compensation for loss of income -- were filed Friday by the

Calgary law firm Docken and Company It was the final day available for residents of the southeast neighbourhood to file suits before the two-year deadline passes.

The suits come as the few remaining residents still living on the ridge mark the second anniversary of the discovery of high levels of lead and hydrocarbons in the community's soil. They claim Imperial, Devon Estates Ltd. and Glenayre Technologies had a hand in health problems they allege were caused by the contamination left behind when the former refinery tank farm site was redeveloped.

More than half of the suits relate to health problems sustained by children who grew up in the neighbourhood.

Imperial Oil would not comment on the new claims, which have yet to be proven in court.

The suits are not the first to be filed against the companies with regards to Lynnview Ridge. Twenty separate law suits filed back in November claim the companies knowingly built homes on contaminated land, stating residents were left out of pocket be cause of plummeting property values.

The largest of those claims is for $3.15 million, by Lynn view Ridge Residents Action Committee president Tim Mather .

Most claims average about $600,000.

Imperial Oil has always disputed those allegations, denying its actions have resulted in lower property values in Lynnview and saying it did every thing required of it when the land was redeveloped.

The company has also vigorously defended itself against claims people have fallen ill be cause of lead and hydrocarbons in the soil.

The Calgary Health Region is also adamant there are no grounds to link elevated levels of lead and hydrocarbons in the soil with a health hazard in the community

Vaughn Marshall, who will act as lead counsel for the residents, confirmed Friday the 20 claims had been filed in the Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary . He would not comment further until all parties had seen the statements of claim.

It is not known when the law suits will be heard.

Health has long been an issue in the Lynnview Ridge community, ever since lead was first discovered in the neighbour hood in the early 1990's, then rediscovered at higher levels in May2001.

Affidavits were filed earlier this year claiming five youths from four different Lynnview families suffered from attention-deficit disorder or other learning difficulties.

However, this is the first time residents have sought compensation for health problems they believe w e r e caused by lead and hydrocarbons in their soil.

Gavin Fitch, the lawyer who has acted for the Lynnview Ridge Residents Action Committee for the past two years, said most claims date back to when the children were much younger and played in the contaminated soil, and not to any current or ongoing risk.

"Several (lawsuits) relate to their children and having ADHD (attention deficit hyper activity disorder) as a result of growing up in the neighbourhood," said Fitch.

"People have asked the questions, 'What's my health really like? And how sick am I?' The majority of people on the ridge aren't making health claims. We've never contended that everyone up there (is) sick -- that's just not the case.

"But there are a few families to whom it is a real issue."

Fitch deflected criticism that those families with health concerns contradict their argument by continuing to live in a community they believe is a health hazard.

He said most of the suits re late to illnesses that date back several years, when children were much younger and more susceptible to problems caused by contaminated soil.

"If that is the claim, the dam age is done," he said.

"Many of these kids are now older. in terms of ongoing risk, if the claim is my children played in this dirt when they were two years old and got ADHD, there's not really any ongoing risk.

"It's an incredibly difficult position. They are concerned about their health, but they also have to think about their losses if they leave. It's easy for some one to say they should just cut their losses and leave but if they're facing losses of $300,000, that's a lot of losses to cut.

"In some cases, they want to leave, but they don't have the money to do that. They're facing this dilemma right now."

Shawn Howard, spokesman for Imperial Oil, said his company cannot comment on the possibility of further lawsuits until the company is served with the suits. "We're not able to comment on any potential lawsuits until somebody brings it forward and actually serves us," he said.

Copyright 2003 Calgary Herald

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