Swiss firms to clean up hazardous waste site

Bonfol wastes to be removed by chemical companies after deal with Jura canton authority

Swiss chemical firms that sent waste to a controversial landfill on the Franco-Swiss border believed to be leaking hazardous materials into water supplies have agreed to remove materials from the site at an estimated cost of over SFr200m (euros 140m), following talks with the Jura canton last week.

The Bonfol landfill was used by Basel-based companies between 1961 and 1976 and some 114,000 tonnes of waste are now stored there. The site has long caused concern over potential groundwater pollution, including in France, whose territory starts a few hundred metres from the landfill. Last month, French environment minister Dominique Voynet pressed home these concerns during a visit to Switzerland to visit her counterpart Moritz Leuenberger.

The new agreement to remove wastes from Bonfol follows a prolonged stand-off between local authorities and the companies. In January, the regional environment minister called for all the waste to be removed within five years, but the companies concerned argued that complete removal was unnecessary and said that up to 15 years should be planned for restorative activities. A timetable for waste removal has not yet been agreed, but is expected in the next few months.

Bonfol has, however, been a source of concern for much longer. Having been capped with earth when its working life ended in 1975, the landfill subsequently began to leak, sparking a SFr30m investment by chemical firms to collect all leachate and treat it. This was completed in 1995; the companies pay a further SFr1.5m annually for continued monitoring and management.

Meanwhile, the Jura canton and Greenpeace have both claimed that the landfill is still polluting nearby water supplies despite these efforts. Greenpeace, in particular, says it has found traces of zinc, cadmium, lead and mercury in the water table, as well as dioxins, chlorobenzen, PCBs, phenols and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The group occupied Bonfol in the run-up to last week's talks between Jura and the chemical companies to call for faster action to clean up the site.

Follow Up:
Jura Canton, tel: +41 32 420 5111; Greenpeace Switzerland, tel: +41 1 447 4111; Swiss environment agency, tel: +41 31 323 0334.

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