MEPs call for support for Doñana clean-up

European Parliament warns of threats of similar disasters at other EU mine sites

The European Parliament has called for EU money to assist clean-up activities in Spain's Doñana national park, following the leak of huge amounts of toxic sludge from a nearby mining waste reservoir nearly three weeks ago. In a resolution passed last week, it also warned of the threat of similar disasters at other reservoirs within the EU.

Last month over 5,000 cubic metres of toxic liquid waste escaped from a reservoir at the Aznalcóllar mine, damaging thousands of hectares of agricultural land as well as the Doñana national park (ENDS Daily 27 April). The disaster has been dubbed the "Spanish Chernobyl" by environmental groups, who claim it will take decades for wildlife and ecosystems to recover.

The European Parliament wants Doñana, the largest national park in Europe and a UN world heritage site, to be granted a special-interest status, thus enabling money to be directed to its clean-up under the EU Cohesion Fund as well as the Structural Funds. It has also called for Commission to arrange aid "as a matter of urgency" to those affected economically and socially by the disaster.

The sludge leaking from the reservoir contains toxic metals, such as zinc, lead and cadmium. The Parliament has stressed that "numerous" reservoirs in the EU contain toxic substances, in particular in the North Sea and Baltic areas, and pose a threat of similar disasters in the future.

The Canadian/Swedish Boliden Group, which owns the mine, has admitted responsibility for the incident and promised to pay for clean-up costs and compensation for local farmers. The agricultural ministry and farming associations have estimated a cost of over US$120m (Ecu109m) to clean up the affected farmland.

Environmental groups working on the clean-up have expressed anger at what they see as a lack of coordination between Spanish national, regional and civil authorities. A spokesperson for one European NGO told ENDS Daily that the different authorities were "passing the buck", and claimed the Spanish government needed to "bite the bullet" and assume control.

He added that environmental groups were increasingly concerned at a lack of definition of the term "clean-up", and warned that more studies into the effects of the damage was needed. "We do not know what will happen when the winter rains come" he said.

The European Parliament has also pointed out that the proposed directive on strategic environmental assessments would help to prevent such disasters happening in the future. The directive is currently awaiting discussion in the Council of Ministers (ENDS Daily 29 April).

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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