Corby families win court case linking birth defects to contamination

Sixteen families won a high court case yesterday that ascertained a highly likely link between birth defects and exposure to contaminants from the clean up and reclamation of the Corby steelworks between 1983 and 1997

The group litigation case, begun in 2006 (ENDS Report 372, p 17), focused on the claims of eighteen families with children born between 1986 and 1999, all of whom have deformities to their hands or feet. The claims of two other families were rejected.

There was found to be a “statistically significant cluster” of birth defects between 1989 and 1999. The group claimed that pregnant mothers’ exposure to harmful substances had caused them. It said that Corby Borough Council (CBC) and its statutory predecessor, Corby District Council, were to blame.

The council’s reclamation of the site involved the removal and transportation of very large quantities of materials, many of which contained harmful substances such as cadmium, chromium, nickel, dioxins and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The process, described as “muck shifting”, included transportation on public roads.

The judge, Mr Justice Akenhead, said the council “did not really appreciate the enormity, ramifications and difficulty of what it was setting out to achieve in terms of removing and depositing very substantial quantities of contaminated material.”

He noted that there had been no appropriate assessment of the risks to the wider environment and the local population.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Akenhead found the council as having been “extensively negligent” in its approach between 1983 and August 1997.

He concluded that the council’s methods had resulted in Corby’s residents and visitors being exposed to potential harm from contaminants.

Moreover, he said these contaminants “could realistically have caused the types of birth defects of which complaint has been made.”

While finding the council “liable in public nuisance, negligence and breach of statutory duty,” the judge added that this was subject to it being established in later proceedings by individual claimants that their particular conditions were caused by the defaults identified in this judgement.

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