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Danisco beating mercury poisoning claims

By Shane Starling , 21-Apr-2009

Initial claims that Danish supplier Danisco was responsible for mercury poisoning of workers at one of its vitamin plants in the 1960s and 1970s have been dismissed by a Danish tribunal.

The Danish National Board of Industrial Injuries (DNBII) has handed in verdicts on about 20 claims and all of them have exonerated Danisco from causing any mercury poisoning-associated symptoms.

Claimants have four weeks to appeal verdicts but was unable to ascertain whether appeals had been lodged.

The process is not a public one and so it is not known what medical conditions claimants are seeking compensation for nor how much they are likely to receive if Danisco is found to be culpable. Not even Danisco knows the nature of the claims being made against it.

The DNBII has a total of 143 claims made by former Danisco employees its medical and legal experts will adjudicate on and press officer, Birgitte Lyhne Broksø, told these would be Processed by July 1, “if all went well”.

“So far no link has been proven between working at the factory and the particular complaints,” Broksø said.

Danisco spokesperson, Nathalie Weber, told the Danish ingredients giant had assisted the process by providing worker urine samples from the period when the alleged contamination took place at its plant in Grindstedværket, which was shut down in 1981.

She said knowledge of mercury contamination was poor in the time the alleged contamination took place, and only increased later, but said Danisco had no knowledge workers may have been at risk either at the time or subsequently.

Under Danish law, companies contribute to a national insurance scheme, from which payments for such claims would be made, so any claimant that is successful will not be compensated by Dansico directly.

But the company said it would offer additional compensation where links between ailments and working at its plants were demonstrated.

“In the past months, we have assisted with measurements and other data related to the working and employment conditions at the plant in the 1960s and 1970s, and we now look forward to finalising the claims in a proper manner,” said Danisco plant manager, Martin Kirstein Madsen.

Lead poisoining is also known as hydrargaria or mercurialism and its symptoms can include brain, kidney and lung damage, impaired vision and loss of motor coordination. It can also digestive and oral problems.

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