Spanish mine firm seeks bankruptcy protection

NGOs claim owner of Aznalcollar zinc mine trying to avoid legal liability for 1998 spill

Boliden Apirsa, the Spanish subsidiary of the troubled Swedish-Canadian multinational Boliden Limited, yesterday filed for bankruptcy protection. The firm said it would end production next year at its Aznalcollar mine in Andalucía, scene of a huge toxic sludge spill two years ago (ENDS Daily 27 April 1998).

According to the company, the move was forced by a euros 87.7m (SPta14.6bn) debt, low zinc prices and the poor quality of metal extracted from Aznalcollar. But Spanish environmental groups are claiming that Boliden is trying to distance itself from the 1998 accident. The firm's decision is part of an "overall strategy to evade liability," said NGO Ecologists in Action.

Boliden says it will comply with undertakings to finish cleaning up the immediate vicinity of the mine and to ensure future environmental safety at the site. About euros 180m of public money has so far been spent in the area affected; Boliden says it has paid out another euros 36m for cleaning operations and in compensation to local farmers.

The issue of who finally foots the bill will not be decided until legal proceedings against Boliden directors and a number of other defendants have been concluded. The case is bogged down in a local court and no final verdict is expected for "at least five years" according to a Spanish environment ministry spokesperson.

Neither Boliden nor the ministry were able to clarify the implications of the firm's bankruptcy protection application on any possible future judgement against the company for environmental liability.

Follow Up:
Boliden Apirsa, tel: +34 91 564 4003; Ecologists in Action, tel: +34 954 90 39 84.

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