Taiwanese Employees of a Now-Closed RCA TV Factory Sue Over Cancer Cases
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Weng Shih Pei-yun spent five years working at a television assembly factory in northern Taiwan in the 1970s, part of a legion of laborers who helped transform this island from agricultural backwater to industrial powerhouse.
Now the 58-year-old cancer victim says she is confined to her home in a Taipei suburb, suffering from constant headaches, daily nose bleeds and fainting spells that she blames on her time at the American-owned plant.
Weng is one of 349 people -- former factory workers or their families -- suing Radio Corporation of America and its one-time parent, General Electric Co., for New Taiwanese dollars 2.4 billion (US$72 million; euro54 million) in cancer-related damages, allegedly resulting from contaminated water and excessive exposure to toxic chemicals at the Taiwanese facility.
In 32 years of operation, the plant employed more than 80,000 workers. While it is unclear how many of them became ill, 32 of the lawsuit's plaintiffs have died of cancer since 2000, and 211 have developed cancerous tumors, including in the brain, lung, kidney and breast, according to lawyer Kent Liu of the Legal Aid Foundation in Taipei.
The factory closed in 1992, after switching hands twice -- Fairfield, Conn.-based GE bought RCA in 1986 and sold the name to Thomson SA of France a few years later.
Some cleanup of the land was carried out by the companies in the mid-1990s, though as recently as 2004, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Agency declared it contaminated, because its groundwater was polluted by toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, including vinyl chloride.
Legal proceedings in the factory case began in 2002, when volunteer lawyers filed a suit asking a district court to freeze RCA's local assets, Liu said.
He alleged that the company's bank holdings disappeared before litigation began.
After numerous out-of-court requests for compensation went unanswered by RCA and GE, Liu said, a group of former employees traveled to the United States, publicizing their grievances during meetings with environment and labor rights groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and New York.
The current suit was initially thrown out by Taipei District Court in 2004, and that judgment was upheld on appeal.
In December 2005, however, Taiwan's Supreme Court ordered it back to the district level for a new hearing, citing procedural errors.
Spokespeople from both GE and Thomson declined to comment on the case because it is still being litigated.
Liu says he cares deeply for victims like Weng, who because of the cancer -- in her inner ear and nose -- is unable to work.
Weng herself points out that she has no history of cancer in her family and never smoked cigarettes.
"It's been difficult," she says of her nine-year battle with recurring bouts of the disease. "Very difficult. I wish I hadn't worked there."
Source: Associated Press