July 29, 2009

U.K. families win fight over birth defects

An industrial town was negligent in cleaning up an abandoned steelworks site and may have contributed to birth defects, Britain's High Court ruled Wednesday.

Eighteen claimants ages 9 to 22 sued the Corby Borough Council, claiming their pregnant mothers were exposed to an atmospheric soup of toxic materials when Corby, in south-central England, dismantled a former British Steel plant and cleaned up the contaminated 680 acres from 1985 to 1999.

The huge steel plant, one of Western Europe's largest, closed in 1980, with the loss of 10,000 jobs.

The council denied links between removing the waste to a quarry and the local birth defects, which include missing fingers, deformed hands and feet, heart defects, eye problems and skin conditions, The Times of London reported.

But Judge Robert Akenhead of the High Court of Justice ruled there was a statistically significant cluster of birth defects in Corby between 1989 and 1999 that could realistically have been caused by airborne toxins from the steelworks site cleanup.

He denied the claims of the two youngest claimants, The Times said.

The judge ruled the council was guilty of negligence and breach of statutory duty to residents during the land reclamation.

He said the issue of whether the air pollution actually caused the defects would be decided later.