Mayor withholds news of chemical leak

Synthesia chemical plant

A chemical leak last Thursday in the East Bohemian town of Pardubice has caused a local doctor to launch a court case against the town's mayor. Mayor Vratislav Vojtisek failed to immediately inform the public - an act that could have resulted in serious health risks. The Synthesia chemical plant is one of the largest private producers of chemical products in the Czech Republic; is it the responsibility of local authorities to inform the public of last week's chemical cloud or the chemical producers themselves?

The yellowish-red chemical cloud drifting over the town of Pardubice last week did not just raise concern about ensuing health risks. The situation was aggravated when local Mayor Vratislav Vojtisek's failed to alert the public. Mrs. Sulova is a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Environment. She told Radio Prague the ministry's position in such cases:

"Of course, the local inhabitants should be the first to be informed by the Integrated Rescue System because they are the ones directly threatened by such leaks."

The integrated rescue system is a coordinated effort between police, firefighters and emergency medical crews. Due to the lack of information released by local authorities it wasn't even clear which sectors of the system were needed to be in place. Mrs. Sulova says how she views the mayor's approach.

"I think such an approach is irresponsible. It is always better for the inhabitants to be informed on time, despite the fact that the danger was later proven not to be that grave. It is important as a preventive measure."

In cases of leaked chemical substances as a result of technical problems, Radio Prague asked Mrs. Sulova whether private companies are responsible to directly inform the public or whether it is the responsibility of local authorities:

"The companies are responsible to inform through local offices and are responsible for the leak of dangerous substances. They may be given a penalty from the Czech Environment Inspection, which may be very high. Or local inhabitants have the option of launching a court case. They are also responsible for the repair of damages and compensation."

Such environmental accidents have occurred repeatedly in the past both in Synthesia and other chemical plants in the Czech Republic. However, As Miroslav Suta from the Czech branch of Greenpeace points out, health and environmental risks sometimes take the back seat when it comes to economic interests.

"State authorities have a tendency to play down problems. For example Synthesia chemical industry is a key employer in several regions and have a very large economic impact on communities therefore politicians would like to maintain good relations with these very important chemical industries."