Greenpeace slams Spolana for "scandalous" lack of information

Spolana Neratovice, Photo:CTK
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Germany sent its Environment Minister Juergen Trittin to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, to examine claims that toxic dioxins and mercury were leaking into the River Elbe from the flooded Spolana chemical plant. Mr Trittin joined his Czech counterpart Libor Ambrozek for a tour of Spolana, and afterwards the two men told reporters that mercury and dioxin levels in the flooded factory were no higher now than before the floods, suggesting that fears of an environmental catastrophe were unfounded. But environmental groups such as Greenpeace say the danger of contamination is still very real, and, like Mr Ambrozek, have criticised Spolana for failing to provide accurate and prompt information. Jan Haverkamp is from the Czech branch of Greenpeace.

Spolana Neratovice, Photo:CTK
"The two points we started out with were the mercury and dioxin polluted areas which were flooded this week. Water has come in on the whole mercury-polluted area, and on the largest part of the dioxin-polluted area. Which means that technically speaking at least, mercury and dioxin has washed out. The question is just how much. And that's a question which is not so easily answered. The point that was added to it this week was of course the chlorine situation. Chlorine was stored at Spolana - there were technical problems containing the chlorine which was in the plant, and there were two escapes of chlorine, which is always a very nasty thing for people around it, and for instance fruit trees and other trees."

If dioxin and mercury has leaked into the Elbe, what sort of effect can such chemicals have on humans and animals?

"Both chemicals are bio-accumulative. That means they heap up in the food chain. So the first thing where you would find problems is probably fish, and then in cattle grazing in the flood plain stream off. A colleague organisation in Germany - Arge-Elbe - has for years been monitoring the quality of the Elbe for the International Elbe Commission, and they've already said that they expect to find both chemicals back in the water and sea area in a few years. There they have a direct influence - mercury on the nervous system and dioxin on the hormone system of the animals involved. That can also get through to humans, when they start consuming, say, fish which has been accumulating dioxin or mercury."

The Czech authorities have sought to reassure the public. They say the situation is serious, but there's simply no risk to safety. Where does Greenpeace stand on that?

"Well that basically brings me to this fourth point which worried us, and that is the whole information policy over the last one and a half weeks, and it's a really big worry. Because what I see now in the end is that Spolana has given in to everything we've been saying, but about four or five days later. And in this way, Spolana has created an atmosphere of panic in Neratovice and the surrounding area. It took the Czech Environmental Inspectorate about one and a half days to get permission to take samples in Spolana, and for me, that's a scandal."