Montreal

Quebec cancer lawsuit begins

Legal proceedings related to a class-action lawsuit over contaminated water in Shannon, Que., begin in a Quebec City court.

Legal proceedings related to a class-action lawsuit over contaminated water in Shannon, Que., began Monday in a Quebec City court.

Residents of Shannon, Que., claim groundwater contaminated by the chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, was responsible for hundreds of cases of cancer in the town. ((CBC))

About 3,500 people from the town near the provincial capital are suing the federal government, claiming groundwater contaminated by the chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, was responsible for hundreds of local cases of cancer.

For decades, trichloroethylene was used as a chemical degreaser by Canadian Forces Base Valcartier and SNC Lavalin.

Charles Veilleux, the lawyer for the defendants, said the government knew about the dangers of TCE contamination before they were revealed to the public 10 years ago.

"While they were spending a lot of money to find out how important the plume of contamination was, how fast it was migrating, they could have informed the people to take proper measures to reduce their exposure to that product," he said. "They did not do it. I find it very shocking."

The residents are seeking damages for health problems they say were caused by water tainted with the industrial solvent used at the neighbouring Valcartier base in the 1950s.

Residents claim they've experienced unusual health problems, including as many as 500 cancer cases. Shannon residents drank the water for 22 years before they discovered the contamination in 2000.

They accuse the Department of National Defence and SNC-Tech of covering up problems caused by TCE. SNC-Tech, a division of Groupe SNC Lavalin, owns the facilities on the military base where the solvent was used.

"When you get three or four cases of cancer in the same house over 20 years, you have to wonder what's going on," Veilleux said.

The lawyer said he will begin by calling expert witnesses in mapping and hydrogeology to show the spread of the contamination.

No one from the federal government would comment on the case, ahead of Monday's proceedings.

Lawyers for the federal government and SNC Technologies tried to stop the lawsuit, arguing it should never have been certified in 2007 because its parameters are too wide.

Testimony is expected to last six months.

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