Boliden paid 10 million kronor in the mid-eighties for Chilean company Promel to take care of 20,000 tonnes of toxic waste that was ruled too dangerous to be kept on site in Skellefteå, far northern Sweden.
The toxic waste, however, was dumped in Polylgono, a small village in northern Chile, and left in the open where villagers were exposed to it.
Boliden claims the transfer was carried out in line with the law, however lawyers representing the villagers allege that Boliden simply sent the waste to the other side of the world knowing that once the problem was out of sight, it would be out of mind too.
“You close your eyes and pay and then never hear about it again,” Johan Öberg, one of the lawyers representing the villagers, told the TT news agency.
Thousands of villagers claimed in an open letter to Boliden that the waste dumped had led to arsenic poisoning, particularly amongst children.
“We represent the 707 people in the town of Arica, northern Chile,” the residents wrote in the letter, published by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.
“In the area we have lived our lives, we have been hit by an unusual number of cancers, birth defects, and miscarriages. We wonder who will be affected next time. A child? A sister? Someone’s parents?”
A spokesperson from Boliden reacted strongly to the lawsuit, which was filed on Monday at the Skellefteå District Court.
“What’s happened in Arica is truly, truly tragic and regrettable for those affected, and if it’s true that material from Boliden was part of it all then it is even more regrettable for us,” Marcela Sylvander, head of communications at Boliden, told the TT news agency.
SEB, part owners of the Boliden, welcomed an investigation into the claims.
“We are following what’s happening with all the companies of which we are a major shareholder,” Viktor Andersson, spokesman at SEB, told DN. “I think it’s good that an independent investigation is carried out in terms of the legal processes.”
Boliden is a mining and smelting company, primarily focusing on copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver. With around 4,500 employees, the company was named after the Boliden mine near Skellefteå in northern Sweden after a gold discovery in the early twenties.