Dioxin threat to Elbe River claims Greenpeace

Greenpeace-Aktivisten vor den Toren der Firma Spolana (Foto: CTK)

The abandoned Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice, north of Prague, poses a major health threat and environmental risk - or at least so says the environmental group Greenpeace. The plant, which contains dioxin waste, is situated on the Elbe River, which runs through the Czech Republic and Germany to the North Sea. Greenpeace says it's worried that if the Elbe floods this spring, the toxins in the building could enter the river system, posing a major risk to the environment. Radio Prague's Nicole Klement has more....

Protest, photo: CTK
In the mid 60s the Spolana chemical plant produced pesticides and other chlorine products, and until 1968 it also produced 2,4,5,-T one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange, a powerful chemical defoliant used to devastating effect in Vietnam. One of the waste products of 2,4,5,-T are dioxins, and it is estimated that the Spolana buildings contain dozens and maybe hundreds of grams of this toxic waste product.

Jan Haverkamp is from the Czech branch of the environmental group Greenpeace:

"Dioxins are one of the most toxic substances on earth. Dioxins are really poisonous even in extremely small amounts. They can cause cancers, they can cause immune deficiencies, they can interfere with your hormonal system and therefore can cause deformations of the liver and kidney and other organs."

Mr. Haverkamp went on to say that the Spolana site contains dioxin levels above the maximum acceptable danger levels. Although 100g doesn't seem like much, he says, even 1g is enough to cause a major environmental disaster.

"At the moment, the buildings contain between several tens to several hundreds of grams of dioxins. If you want to compare how much that is - well, a few years ago, in Belgium, chicken feed was contaminated with only 1 gram of dioxin, and the clean up operation cost about 4 billion German marks."

Zdenek Joska, Spolana's spokesperson, says that the dioxin levels are within acceptable limits, and that efforts have long been underway to de-contaminate the site.

"A "feasibility study" has been completed which contains various options for solving the problem. As soon as this study has been discussed and the conclusions made, the National Property Fund will announce a tender for further steps to finish the whole procedure. It will also disclose precise terms and dates by which the whole procedure is to be finished."

While Greenpeace recognises Spolana's attempts at minimising danger, they say the efforts are insufficient - Jan Haverkamp :

"That risk assessment shows clearly how large the problem is. One of the buildings has been put in a sarcophagus, sealing off the dioxins from the environment. The other two buildings are still standing in the open and are in very bad condition. The dioxins are on the inside. But the largest threat that we see at the moment is a very urgent one and that is that "the fifty year flood" could flood the area. It might wash through the building and wash out the dioxins which are stored in dust there. It may be washed out into the Elbe and that would be a real catastrophe."

And that was Jan Haverkamp from Greenpeace, ending that report by Nicole Klement

author: Nicole Klement
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