Inco has been ordered to pay $36 million to past and present property owners in Port Colborne, for lost property value due to historic nickel contamination. None of the contamination occurred after 1984, and Inco complied with all applicable laws during the operation of its refinery. Nevertheless, Justice Henderson ruled that Inco is strictly liable to the Port Colborne property owners“as a result of the failure to prevent the escape of a dangerous substance (Rylands v. Fletcher).” The neighbourhood claims are not statute barred, he said, because the neighbours did not know how much the nickel contamination would affect their property values until after public announcements in September 2000. A Ministry of the Environment–ordered cleanup of the area, in accordance with a community-based risk assessment, was also no bar to the lawsuit, since not all nickel in the soil would be removed by this cleanup.
Inco will undoubtedly appeal this hugely important decision. If it stands, it will open the door to similar lawsuits across the country against industries and municipalities for historic contamination. We will provide more details next week.