Lawyer: Cyprus court rules factory chemical caused cancer

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A court in Cyprus has found the government negligent for allowing a factory to emit for years a chemical that experts say caused cancer in nearby residents, a lawyer who represented the victims said Thursday.

Loukis Loucaides said that in its ruling last week, the court also held the owners of the Astrasol factory responsible over the dichloromethane emissions. The emissions were found to cause a variety of cancers to the Nicosia suburb's residents, including a three-year-old child.

Loucaides said it's the first time a court accepts expert testimony saying that the solvent caused cancers like brain and prostate cancer, Hodgkin's and leukemia.

He said over 80 cancer cases appeared in a cluster within a 500 meter radius of the factory that used dichloromethane to manufacture shoe soles when it operated between 1976 and 2009 in the suburb of Latsia.

"You would have expected a state to have stopped the factory's operation, conducted an investigation and made absolutely sure that it was safe for neighbors," Loucaides told The Associated Press.

Years of protests by local residents failed to get authorities to heed their fears. But in 2009, some 23 families filed lawsuits in a civil court against the factory owners and the government.

It took nearly a decade for the slow-moving Cypriot justice system to deliver a ruling in a single, pilot case. But Loucaides praised judge Alecos Panayiotou for what he called his "integrity and impartiality."

Loucaides said his clients have authorized him to ask Cyprus' Attorney-General to launch criminal action against specific individuals who could be liable for allowing the factory's operation.

The lawyer said victims will seek possible financial compensation individually in separate legal action.

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