The dam of a storage lake for toxic mining effluents broke last April and released 5 million m3 of toxic sludge covering an area of 45 km2. The sludge spread 40 km downstream from the broken dam, into the Guadalquivir River system, seriously damaging the national park and the protected wetland of Coto Doqana in Southern Spain.
Boliden has submitted an environmental impact assessment of the disaster and asked the Spanish authorities for permission to re-open the mine. Tomorrow, the 20-day period set by the Spanish authorities for presenting comments on the partial re-opening of Boliden's mine expires. Should they approve Boliden's proposal to re-utilise the old mine pit and the existing landfills, the mine will re-open.
WWF reports that the Boliden project to re-open the mine does not satisfactorily prevent the risk of a new incident in the area. Last July, WWF presented a full report to the Spanish authorities, the EU, and Boliden, including recommendations for risk assessment and management. To date, Boliden has not implemented these recommendations. A careful assessment of the re-opening plan reveals how Boliden has failed to fully address the environmental risk factors associated with the tailings lagoon and the old pit. Jane Madgwick, WWF European Freshwater Officer and Co-ordinator of the WWF Doqana Initiative says Should the Boliden project be approved, the risks of toxic leaching and a new incident are significant. This episode shows the inadequacy of both European legislation and technical guidance on the issue of the management of toxic waste from mines.
Today WWF, together with other environmental NGOs, presented their comments on the re-opening project to the Spanish regional authorities. Four main criticisms of the project were raised:
1. A general risk assessment on the mining process has not been presented;
2. Boliden has not tackled the issue of the toxic waste stored in the old pit;
3. Boliden's risk assessment has not satisfactorily demonstrated the safety of the old pit in terms of a new use for toxic waste when mining recommences;
4. The monitoring programme and period of the old pit that Boliden proposes is insufficient.
Although the Spanish authorities and Boliden claim that the clean-up of the area is complete, Doqana is still contaminated with toxic sludge. Hunting and fishing of some species are still banned in three Spanish provinces. The toxic sludge coming from the contaminated land is again being stored in the old pit.
The incident last April was extremely serious but is not unique: on 1st January 1999 a dam of a storage lagoon just 50 km away broke and caused a toxic spill of thousands of cubic meters of acid water, probably seriously contaminating a protected area in the Huelva province.
The EU is keeping a low profile in the discussions over the re-opening of the mine. No European technical standards for tailings containment exist. This gap in legislation and technical guidance also means that the EC structural funds allocated to Boliden which were frozen after the April 1998 incident - will re-start without satisfactory guarantees on safety for the workers, the local population or the environment.
WWF recommends to the Spanish authorities that no approval be given for the re-opening of the mine until a full risk assessment is completed concerning the mining operations and associated toxic waste storage. WWF further recommends to the EC that all funding to Boliden remains frozen until risk management issues and monitoring systems are satisfactorily addressed.
UPDATE: 14 Jan 1998
WWF carried out a press conference in Sevilla, Spain, organised by WWF-Spain (Adena). Twenty five press journalists and 5 televisions attended the press conference and a lot of good coverage was achieved. One of the highlights was the BBC World service, who broadcasted this news in Europe. Other international press asked for more information on the EC funding and publish the news from this angle.
For further information and press material, please contact:
Guido Schmidt, Local Coordinator for Doqana (English, Spanish, German) Mobile +34(98)9050781 Fax +34(91)3083293 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Madgwick, European Freshwater Officer (English) WWF International c/o WWF Denmark, 3F Ryesgade, DK-2200 Copenhagen N-Denmark, Tel. +45(35)363635 Fax +45(35)392062 email email@example.com
Giulietta Rak, Communications Coordinator for Doqana (English, Spanish, Italian) Tel. +39(06)84497417, Mobile +39(347)9301963, Fax +39(06)8413866 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org