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Chileans sue Swedish mining company over toxic waste, demand $13.9 million in compensation

A group of 707 Chileans sued Swedish mining company Boliden on Monday, demanding 91 million kronor ($13.9 million) in compensation for health problems allegedly caused by toxic waste the company dumped in northern Chile.

The lawsuit filed with a Swedish district court claims Boliden exported 20,000 tons of mining waste to the Chilean town of Arica in the mid-1980s, despite knowing it was highly toxic and could not be handled safely at the site.

Citizens in a residential area called Polygono claim the waste includes high levels of arsenic, led and quicksilver and that it has given them health problems such as cancer, aching bones, breathing difficulties, rashes and miscarriages.

Attorney Johan Oberg, who represents the victims, says Boliden was an expert in the field and well aware of the dangers of handling the waste when it exported it to Chile, which was then ruled by dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Oberg said years before the export the company stated "there is no one else in the world but us who can handle" such waste.

Boliden said it regrets what happened in Arica but claims the responsibility lies with Chilean authorities who allowed houses to be built near the dump site in the 1990s, and the Chilean company Promel that Boliden paid to take care of the waste.

"What happened in Arica is truly tragic," Boliden said in a statement. "Legal proceedings in Chile have ... established that Promel and the Chilean health authorities are responsible for what happened and for the harm suffered. Damages were paid out to the victims and a decision to evacuate the area was taken during the autumn of 2009," it said.

Boliden spokeswoman Marcela Sylvander said the company was convinced that Promel could handle the material properly and that one of its experts had been on the site twice to secure it was safe.

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