Harm to the Environment: The Right to Compensation and the Assessment of Damages

By Peter Wetterstein | Go to book overview

2
A Proprietary or Possessory Interest: A Conditio Sine Qua Non for Claiming Damages for Environmental Impairment?

PETER WETTERSTEIN


1. INTRODUCTION

Environmental impairment can cause a great variety of harm and damage. The negative effects may result both from accidentsoccurring in the course of production, transport, storage, waste-handling, etc., of hazardous and noxious substances and from gradual pollution from environmentally harmful activity, for instance, emissions, spills, or waste generation on a continuing or repetitive basis.1

Loss of lives and personal injuries have been sustained in connection with accidents such as Chernobyl ( 1986),2 Bhopal ( 1984),3 and Texas City ( 1947).4 These accidents also caused extensive material damage, that is, damage to property and consequential economic losses. Such damage is further continuously caused by gradual pollution. However, mainly because of the difficulties in proving a causal link between a polluting activity and inflicted harm, claims for personal injury have so far not been common in the latter context. Many incidents involving

____________________
1
The distinction between accidental damage and gradual and long-term effects is important from the viewpoint of damage reduction and risk management. Accidental damage usually arises from active operations (production plants, etc.), whereas the risk of gradual pollution is more typical of passive operations, exemplified by stores and refuse tips. See P. Linkola, "Försäkringsprincipen som miljöekonomiskt styrmedel" ( 1989) 69 Nordisk Fösäkringstidskrift, No. 2, 90-100, at 92.
2
According to official information provided by the Soviet Union, 32 persons died and more than 200 were injured in the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union. No effects on human life seem to have been registered outside the (former) Soviet Union. However, it is difficult to prove the longterm effects of radiation. For instance, the World Health Organization ( WHO) reported on 24 Mar. 1995, that the number of children suffering from thyroid cancer has increased a hundredfold in the Chernobyl area.
3
In the Bhopal accident in Dec. 1984 a leak of methyl isocyanate gas killed more than 2,800 people and injured 200,000.
4
A total of 468 people were killed when the freighter Grandcamp caught fire and exploded in Apr. 1947 while being loaded with ammonium nitrate in the port of Texas City.

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