Toxics release in Southern Spain | WWF

Toxics release in Southern Spain

Posted on
06 January 1999
Brussels, Belgium - Local controls and European Union laws failed once more when a dam broke in southern Spain and thousands of cubic metres of toxic acid were released into the Sea, said WWF today.

In the night from 31 December 1998 to 1 January 1999, an acid water lagoon broke near the city of Huelva in southern Spain, releasing a cocktail of heavy metals.

50 km west of the famous nature reserve Coto Doqana, the Rio Tinto flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The river borders important nature reserves and an important industrial area. There the two Spanish companies Fertiberia and Foret produce artificial fertilizer - and a daily waste of 10.000 cubic metres acid effluent, including sulphuric acid, fluorine, iron, cadmium and arsenic. This is being discharged into a 70 hectare waste lagoon with a storage capacity of about 1.000.000 cubic metres. The lagoon is very close to the sea and the dam was eroded by 4 metre high waves in a storm, so releasing its contents. Operators are working on the dam, and the firms have stopped their production. Fertiberia denied having neglected the lagoon which had been designed in the USA.

This incident is similar to the tragic event affecting Coto Donana last April in that it was predictable and preventable, says Jane Madgwick, WWF's European Freshwater coordinator. European laws and regulations controlling these storage lagoons are painfully weak, and ever and ever again the lagoons are built in environmentally sensitive areas. It seems likely that the siting, construction, maintenance and monitoring of the storage lagoon has been inadequate here - as in the case of the tailings lagoon at Aznacollar.

The Andalucian government had promoted the development of this new, large storage lagoon as an environmental solution to the previous problems of leaching of these toxics to the river system. A local environment group, Ecologistas en Accisn, had advised several times on the risks of that lagoon. Now, official sources say that 50.000 m3 flow into the ocean while EA says it was more than 500.000 m3.

Although there is no official report on the environmental damage, there are likely to be immediate effects of the acid water on fish and longer term effects of the heavy metals which can accumulate in humans and sea life through the food chain. International commitments made through the OSPAR Convention aim to stop chemical pollution of the Atlantic.

CONTACTS: Guido Schmidt, tel +34 308 23 09, or +34 689 050781; Jane Madgwick, tel +45 35 36 79 40, or +45 21 60 80 98