World

An ugly toxic spill in Spain

May 11 1998
World

An ugly toxic spill in Spain

May 11 1998

An ugly toxic spill in Spain

The Spanish government was considering criminal charges against a Toronto-based international mining company as evidence mounted that an ecologically disastrous spill of toxic waste may have been preventable. Boliden Ltd., owned by Swedish and Canadian interests, promised to pay for the cleanup, estimated by environmentalists at $170 million. But it denied negligence, saying the ground beneath a holding pool at its mine west of Seville suddenly shifted, causing its containing walls to give way. Local scientists, though, said there have been warnings since 1979 about the dangers of waste from the mine contaminating a nearby wildlife preserve. A Spanish

engineer was fired by the company after he warned of structural problems in 1995. Environmentalists also blamed the Spanish government for lax inspection and for misleading the European Union about how close the toxic waste was to the Donana National Park.

Volunteers led by the Greenpeace environmental group hauled away 10 tons of fish killed by a 30-km swath of cadmium, zinc and iron that flowed down the Guadiamar River. Hastily built dikes diverted the sludge away from the park. But experts feared that birds eating the fish would spread the poison. Others predicted it may take 25 years to restore crop land that had supported 2,000 farm families.