Oslo Fines PCB Producers for Fjord Pollution

OSLO, Norway, January 22, 2003 (ENS) - Three firms - Bayer AG, Solutia and Kaneka - have been ordered to pay a total of €7 million (US$7.5 million) by the Environment Department of Oslo, Norway’s capital city. The agency sent letters to the three companies saying they have been shown to be responsible for contaminating the Oslo fjord with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The letters were sent last September, but only disclosed to the public on Tuesday.


Vessel traffic management controller overlooks the Oslo Fjord. (Photo courtesy Norcontrol IT)
The fine will cover half the estimated cost of restoration work to the fjord on which Oslo harbor is located. Bayer has been ordered to pay 50 percent because about half the PCBs in Oslo fjord have been traced back to the German chemical giant.

The remaining 50 percent is to be split equally between Belgium based Solutia, the chemical division of multinational giant Monsanto, and the Japanese chemical company Kaneka.

After analyses suggesting that "a main source of PCB pollution [is] ship paints," chemical fingerprints identified the companies and products responsible, the letters continued.

Bayer officials replied that they will look into the claim. Kaneka has denied any responsibility. Solutia has not yet responded.

This is an important step towards establishing the principle of extended producers' responsibility, says Tom Erik Okland of Friends of the Earth Norway, which has advocated the principle for years.


Boats tied up in Oslo Harbor (Photo credit unknown)
Okland said Friends of the Earth will consider a Norwegian lawsuit if the PCB producers do not voluntarily participate in the cost sharing cleanup plan.

"Our investigation has firmly established that the main sources of PCBs to Oslo harbor have been ship painting and sandblasting at the shipyards. The named PCB producers supplied PCBs for ship paint, but failed to inform the shipyards about the environmental hazards involved. Such information could have prevented most of the PCB pollution along the coast," Okland said.

Norwegian Pollution Control Authorities and Friends of the Earth have documented large parts of the Norwegian coast contaminated with PCBs. In several areas the use of seafood is restricted or banned.

While Norway is not a member of the European Union, the Oslo claim is an illustration of why a stringent liability law that requires polluters to pay for the cleanup of their contaminants is necessary.

Disclosure of the Norwegian claim came on the eve of the European Parliament's Environment Committee vote yesterday, urging the European Union to adopt tough measures on environmental liability.