Toxic contamination in floods threatens population

Press release - 15 August, 2002
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The flooded Spolana chemical plant shortly after the explosion of chlorine gas

Greenpeace today confirmed flooding at two dioxin-contaminated buildings at the Spolana chemical factory outside Prague. Ninety per cent of the company sites are under water and the mercury-contaminated area has been flooded since yesterday.

The impact from flooding at the chemical factory escalated this afternoon when a chlorine cloud forced residents to seek safety indoors. The Greenpeace team had earlier observed smoke coming out of the factory site. During the night a small explosion occurred inside the factory.

Greenpeace has protested the company's reluctance to clean up its dangerous wastes and repeatedly warned about the contamination in Elbe River's flood plain and the possibility of a disaster if flooding occurred. (1)

The chemical factory Spolana Neratovice is situated approximately 25 kilometres north of Prague on the river Elbe. Spolana produces polyvinylchloride (PVC) and other basic chemicals and pharmaceutical products. The two dioxin-contaminated buildings were former production facilities of the herbicide 2,4,5-T, more commonly known as Agent Orange. The company halted its 2,4,5-T production on account of the severe health effects on workers in 1968. Extremely high dioxin concentrations were indicated within in the surroundings of the contaminated buildings.

Spolana allowed the heavily dioxin-contaminated buildings to remain within the Elbe flood zone despite environmental concerns for potential flooding. The company put a flood barrier around one of the more endangered buildings only after pressure from Greenpeace The current flooding threatens to poison the river not only with dioxins and the mercury from vinyl chloride production, but also with other toxic substances such as DDT, endrin, diendrin, lindane, benzene and heptachlor.

"Spolana should be made accountable for the damages caused by this accident. They have known for years about the risks connected with contamination on their site," said Martin Hojsik, Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace Central Europe. "Despite knowing about the dangers, the company has not taken specific measures to clean up and prevent what we now see today."

Notes: (1) At the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, August 26th to September 4th, Greenpeace is calling on world governments to commit to the development of a global framework on corporate responsibility, which should include corporate liability.For more information on Spolana, Greenpeace report on corporate crimes: http://www.greenpeace.org/~toxics/documents/spolana.pdf

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