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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (May 18, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---A bill under review in the House of Representatives will allow island residents who have been exposed to toxic substances beyond the permissible federal level to seek compensation from manufacturers and handlers responsible for bringing the poisonous chemicals here.

Offered by Rep. Dino M. Jones, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, HB 12-177 comes in the wake of the planned class action suit against federal agencies and the manufacturers of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), which contaminated the village of Tanapag on Saipan.

"There is no CNMI law in the book right now that addresses the need to seek compensation for damages resulting from toxic chemicals' exposure," he said.

The measure, according to Mr. Jones, is aimed at protecting people in the CNMI from future contamination as well as to provide a means for those who have already been exposed to file civil suits to seek payments and other reparations.

It will also declare such a policy in the Commonwealth in efforts to facilitate filing of lawsuits and obtaining compensation since case law in other jurisdictions has "created an unacceptable burden on persons exposed to toxic substances to prove causation and the likelihood of harm."

Toxic substances covered by the proposed law will include PBCs, dioxins, furans or halogenated chlorofuluoroalkanes. Federally permitted levels of exposure will encompass those established by federal regulatory agencies, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those who can be sued will be the manufacturers of the chemicals found harmful to residents on the island as well as those responsible for the claimant's exposure. Violators of federal cleanup regulations will also be included since it constitutes negligence, according to the bill.

Recoverable claims and punitive damages will be granted from effects that range from injury, increased risk of illness, lost income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress to loss of ability to enjoy life and other direct and indirect impact of the exposure.

In case of a lawsuit, defendants responsible for the exposure will have "the burden of disproving an increased likelihood of disease or injury" to the claimant, according to the bill, and that all doubts shall be resolved in favor of the plaintiff.

"Studies indicating harmful effects of exposure on animals shall create a presumption that exposure of humans will also be harmful and will cause similar results," it added.

Texas-based lawyers who visited the island last week have said that they expect to face an uphill battle in the planned class action suit to prove that negligence by federal authorities has caused damage to Tanapag residents and their environment due to the PCB chemicals left behind by the U.S. military.

Mr. Jones has been assisting the residents in trying to bring the matter to court to seek compensation and an immediate clean-up of the area, which is now a focus of inter-agency actions aimed at easing villagers' fears of PCB contamination effects.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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