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Two little girls born in the shadow of controversy, but 13 years later they're still fighting for justice...

At birth, they were united by a terrible, tragic twist of fate.

Jennifer Aitken and Elaine McGregor were born with eye defects so rare they affect only one child in FIVE MILLION.

Now, 13 years on, the girls are united again - hand-in-hand outside the gates of a mothballed toxic waste disposal plant.

And as the bulldozers prepare finally to pull down the rusting Re-Chem International factory, the two schoolgirls had a single message:

"Good riddance!"

Jennifer and Elaine were conceived within the shadow of Re-Chem's 180ft chimney near Bonnybridge.

A chimney which still dominates the Forth Valley landscape, towering above an incinerator which once burned the most deadly chemicals known to man.

The Re-Chem furnace was fed with PCBs - polychlorinated biphenyls - so hazardous thattheir manufacture was banned for more than a decade.

Jennifer and Elaine's parents believe their children's deformities are linked to the fumes which poured from the plant.

Jennifer was born blind inher right eye, while Elaine had "slit eye" condition.

Both were born with a form of microphthalmos, an extremely rare eye deformity.

A third local baby - Richard Johnstone - was also born blind in one eye. He and his family later moved to Manchester.

After cattle were born with similar defects, the families launched a compensation claim.

Concerns were also expressed over a similar Re-Chem incinerator in Wales, after two babies were born with defects.

The demolition of the plant is just the latest chapter in a controversy which has dominated the lives of the families.

Elaine's mum Mary, 37, of California, near Falkirk, said: "I'll be glad to see the back of that chimney. But I will still have a reminder of the whole Re- Chem issue every time I look at Elaine's face.

"She has undergone years of painful plastic surgery on her eye, and faces more operations." Jennifer's mum Elaine, 41, added: "I'm delighted that Re-Chem will be gone.

"Jennifer and Elaine have been through this whole nightmare together since they were born.

"It is right they should be together when Re-Chem is banished for good."

A Government probe in the 1980s into the spate of eye disease found no link with the Re- Chem plant and it closed in 1984 for "financial reasons".

But the families have fought on regardless.

They were dealt a huge blow in 1995 when farmer Andrew Graham failed to prove Re-Chem was responsible for the loss of his dairy herd.

The High Court in London cleared the firm after one of the longest and most expensive cases in English legal history.

Mary said: "The case was a real downer but we have to battle on."

The demolition of the Re-Chem plant will take around six weeks and Re- Chem - whose parent company is Shanks and McEwan - has conceded there may be contaminated soil on the site.

Locals fear that poisons could be released into the air.

Falkirk Council has soughtassurances from Re-Chem.

Elaine Aitken added: "We just want to see this building gone from the landscape.

"But we will fight on for answers for our children. We will not let it rest."
COPYRIGHT 1997 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 30, 1997
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