Poor management blamed for Swedish tunnel leak

Investigating committee calls for improved environmental impact assessments for projects

"Poor" project management and an "inadequate" environmental impact assessment were today blamed for last year's leak of toxic acrylamide from a half-built railway tunnel in the south of Sweden (ENDS Daily 21 October 1997). The official Tunnel Commission recommended that environmental impact assessment procedures should be improved, that official controls on large projects should be strengthened and that public procurement procedures should be greened.

In its final report, the commission recommends that future environmental impact assessments of projects should analyse not only their environmental implications as proposed but also the "best possible alternative" from an environmental perspective. Looking at the tunnel accident, the commission concludes that environmental issues were given insufficient attention by both the government, who proposed the project, and the National Rail Administration, responsible for overseeing it.

Another way to give more importance to environmental considerations during planning processes could be to create an independent environmental advocate, such as an ombudsman, the commission states. This body would have the right to appeal against a decision to approve an environmental impact assessment. The commission also recommends that Sweden study the Dutch system, in which impact assessments are reviewed by an independent committee.

The commission concludes that the current system of supervising projects has only "limited opportunities" to prevent serious environmental impacts. It suggests that large-scale users of chemicals should be obliged to notify authorities beforehand, and that the national environmental protection agency's role should be strengthened. Improved supervision would enable the authorities to take quicker and more effective action in the case of an accident, it concludes.

The tunnel accident was "primarily due" to "inadequate management and control of the project," the commission states. The implications of this have "sounded an alarm bell" within the Swedish construction industry as a whole, it says. In particular, more companies are now introducing environmental management systems for site operations. In relation to this, the commission recommends that Sweden push for EU public procurement rules which take environmental considerations into greater account.

The environmental impact of the incident was evaluated in a separate report from the Tunnel Commission, released earlier this year (ENDS Daily 18 May). The government still has to decide the future of the tunnel project, and will take the findings of the commission into account, a government spokesperson told ENDS Daily.

Follow Up:
Swedish government, tel: +46 8 405 1000. References: Details of the Tunnel Commission report are available on the web site (in Swedish).

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