Design fault blamed for Doñana mine spill

Report targets engineering firms, sparks renewed calls for Andalucia ministerial resignation

A technical report commissioned by the magistrate investigating the 1998 toxic waste spillage from Los Frailes mine in Aznalcollar, southern Spain, says design flaws in the mine's tailings dam caused the disaster (ENDS Daily 27 April 1998). According to lawyers who have had access to the 1000-page document, the report concludes that the dam's constructors miscalculated the strength of materials in the dam.

Publication of the report's main findings has led to renewed calls from opposition parties and environmentalists for the resignation of Andalucia's industry minister, whose department authorised an expansion of the tailings pond.

The report appears to strengthen the arguments of the Swedish-Canadian mine operators Boliden Apirsa, which has consistently placed the blame for the accident on the two companies responsible for the dam's design, construction and expansion. Intecsa and Geocisa are both subsidiaries of Spanish construction firm Dragados.

However environmentalists and farmers affected by the spill continue to hold Boliden responsible. Yolanda Menor of the Ecologists in Action told ENDS Daily: "Boliden was aware of the danger of a rupture occurring as far back as 1995". In 1996, the organisation took court action to try to stop the expansion of the tailings pond using evidence - provided by the mining company's own experts - which showed the dam wall to be unstable. The judge now in charge of the accident investigations dismissed the case only days before the massive spill.

With the official release of the report next week judicial proceedings, suspended since July 1998, will restart against 21 employees of the construction and mining companies, the Andalucian government and the Spanish environment ministry.

Follow Up:
Boliden Apirsa, tel: +34 91 564 4003; Ecologists in Action, tel: +34 954 903 984.

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