Major clean-up to get underway at Czech Republic's Spolana plant

Spolana plant, photo: CTK

The Spolana chemical plant just north of Prague has become synonymous with environmental disaster here in the Czech Republic, with a number of high-profile leaks over the decades. Today the site is polluted by large amounts of dangerous chemicals and chemical wastes. But now a new project has just been launched to "depollute" it, with 35,000 tonnes of waste due to be dug up and treated on site by a group of specialists. By 2008 it should be what they call a "clean industrial site".

Spolana plant, photo: CTK
For years the Spolana chemical plant has been one of the Czech Republic's most notorious. When in 2002 the country was hit by major floods, it was Spolana that became the centre of attention: high levels of chlorine seeped into nearby fields, destroying the land. Other accidents at Spolana have involved additional leaks or even explosions. As a result, for years now environmentalists have tapped Spolana as a continuing threat.

Spolana plant, photo: CTK
But, that should now change. An Environment Ministry directive calling for Spolana's clean-up is in effect and decontamination experts Sita Bohemia, in charge of part of the clean-up, are now in the area. At stake is the decontamination or destruction of toxins in two buildings, especially a former processing plant full of toxic dust, said to be highly carcinogenic. Earlier today, I spoke to Sita Bohemia's spokeswoman Petra Sokoloff and asked her about the project.

"Our project focuses on removing 35,000 tons of hazardous material. Of that, around 9,000 tonnes will be the demolished buildings themselves, contaminated walls and structure. The rest is contaminated underlying land that will be dug up. The entire process will take place under an enormous steel sarcophagus, itself connected to an adjacent work hall, pressurised so that no contaminants can escape. It is there that dioxins will be decontaminated or destroyed."

Spolana plant, photo: CTK
In all some 160 specialists will work in the security zone, under the strictest regulations.

Spolana plant, photo: CTK
"In the highest danger area workers will be in special suits with independent breathing systems. The items are of course standard for such zones. In the highest danger area, workers will work in four hour shifts."

According to Petra Sokoloff, Sita Bohemia will keep to its agreement to eliminate the 35,000 tons of toxins by 2008 - although there are other toxins at the Spolana plant whose elimination this project will not oversee. So far, the company in cooperation with Spolana and local towns, has been working to fully inform the public about all important steps. Certainly most are happy with developments, all those who have lived in the "shadow" of Spolana for years or even decades, welcoming the elimination of threat.

"Of course the dioxins represent a potential danger: they are in the dust, the walls, the concrete inside. The building has been standing there, of no use to anyone, for fifty years and as long as it stands it represents a threat. Since it's been closed off, there has been no danger of the toxins escaping. But, if the building were, for instance, to collapse, then dioxins would be released. We saw the floods four years ago. This building, too, is just off the Elbe River. If we don't take care of it, anything could happen."