Former employees of Radio Corp of America (RCA) burst into tears as a court yesterday ordered that the now-defunct electronics company and its owners pay NT$564.45 million (US$18.11 million) in damages to 445 former workers and their families.
With pink banners around their foreheads saying “RCA workers never give up,” about 60 members of the RCA Self-Help Association cheered their victory after the Taipei District Court handed down the ruling on the decade-long legal battle in what has been described as the worst industrial disaster in the nation’s history.
“During my time at RCA, we were often exposed to organic solvents. No one knew whether the substances were hazardous to our health,” said Huang Chun-tiao (黃春窕), 56, who was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer after working at RCA for 18 years.
According to the verdict, the defendants asserted that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the health issues resulted from exposure to environmental factors, but judges opined that the causal relationship could be determined with “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” to be the toxicity of the organic solvents.
RCA operated in Taiwan from 1970 to 1992, with plants in then-Taoyuan County, Hsinchu County, and Yilan County, employing tens of thousands of people in the production of color TVs and other electronics products using up to 31 kinds of organic solvent, including trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethene, exposure to which increases the risk of cancer, the verdict said.
In 1998, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) found that the site of the former RCA plant in Taoyuan was contaminated with chlorinated organic solvents and other toxic chemicals used in its production after the company had illegally dug wells to discharge the toxic waste, which contaminated tap water used by its workers and nearby residents.
The 7.2 hectare plant has been designated by the EPA as a site of “permanent contamination.”
During the period between 1992 when RCA shut down its plants in Taiwan and 2004 when 519 members of the association filed the civil lawsuit, more than 1,300 of RCA’s former employees have been diagnosed with various types of cancer, with 221 of them dying, the verdict said.
A year after the takeover of RCA by General Electric (GE) in 1986, the firm was sold to Thomson Consumer Electronics, the US subsidiary of France-based Thomson Multimedia, which is now called Technicolor SA.
The RCA Self-Help Association had sought damages of NT$2.7 billion from RCA, GE and Thomson, but the court absolved GE of any blame, a decision over which Joseph Lin (林永頌), the lead lawyer for the association, expressed regret.
Lin thanked the judges for determining that the effects of the pollutants caused the diseases, a rare decision in a Taiwanese case.
The defendants have the right to appeal the Taipei District Court’s verdict.