The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has struck down a class-action lawsuit by Cape Breton residents who claimed contamination at the Sydney tar ponds had longstanding health and economic impacts.
In a Statement of Claim, the residents said that heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and respirable particulate contamination came from the operation of a Sydney, Cape Breton steel plant and its coke ovens between 1967 and 2000.
The residents had been seeking compensation and a medical monitoring fund.
In the appeal case, lawyers for the provincial and federal government argued that Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court erred in certifying the class-action lawsuit because there are too many differences in the individual cases for the matter to be heard as a whole.
The appeal court dismissed most of the plaintiffs’ original causes of action, such as trespassing and negligent battery, leaving only negligence, nuisance and breach of fiduciary duty as potential common issues. The court found that the tar ponds contamination was “indirect harm.” The plaintiffs, however, can still attempt to pursue individual claims on the three remaining causes of action.
The original lawsuit was filed by local residents Neila MacQueen, Joe Petitpas, Ann Ross and Iris Crawford.
The coke ovens closed in 1998 and the steel plant in 2000.
In summer 2013, the federal government unveiled the tar ponds as green space after hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of remediation.