Doņana National Park: Toxic Waste Pollution Management Issues
Management Issues: Who pays?
Recent events in southern Spain have increased the awareness of
large scale mining and its adverse effects upon fragile environments. The dam
failure at the Los Frailes mine released between 5-7 million tonnes of tailing
waste in the river Guadiamar. The spill covered large areas of river flood
plains, killed birds and fish, and polluted the water courses. Large scale
pollution of the Doņana 'World Heritage' nature park was narrowly avoided. The
company involved and the Spanish government were unprepared. The spill was
however not the first, and will not be the last.
April 25, 1998: The waste dam at
the Los Frailes mine Spain failed due to an earthslide in the bedrock below the
dam. The slide was caused by excess pressure from the weight of the dam and the
tailings. This pressure caused the dam to shift and cracks to form. A crack at
the southeast end of the dam discharged 1.3 million cubic metres of solid waste
and 5.5 million cubic metres of water. This has had huge socio-environmental
implications - the toxic waste has killed many fish and birds and flooded
thousands of hectacres of farmland. Who is to blame?
Is it Apirsa, the Spanish company which operated the mine?
Is it the Canadian firm, Boliden Ltd. who owns Apirsa? Is it the contractor,
Dragados y Construcciones? Is it the engineering firms, Itecsa and Geocisa, who
designed the dam? Neither the original project survey in 1977 or a 1996 Geocisa
stability report of the geology beneath the dam indicated possible problems.
Who is responsible for the damage?
The breaking of the dam was foreseeable, as
was stated in the Expert Report submitted to the Sanlúcar la Mayor Magistrates'
The government inspectors issued safety
certificates for the dam.
The government blame the mine company for not ensuring the safety of the dam.
They point to a report prepared for the mining company describing the weak point
of the dam two years in advance of the failure.
Claim that there was no way to foresee the incident
and have subsequently blamed the construction company and the government's
inspectors who issued the safety certificate.
Blame the catastrophe on the Canadian-Swedish
company Boliden, which owns the Los Frailes mine where the spill took place -
and on the government for failing to enforce security provisions.
"The company and the authorities knew there were concerns about the
security of the dam," Spanish Greenpeace representative Juan Lopez said.
They demand the implementation of an adequate restoration plan for the mine
It took 9 days before clean-up operations began
The government was unprepared
The mine owners were unprepared
Criticise the lack of preparation
Clean-up cost $270 million funded by Spanish and
Fined the company $45 million
Launched two important restoration programmes aimed at repairing the damages
of the toxic flood and improving the ecological conditions in the whole Doņana
area: the Guadiamar Green Corridor and the Doņana 2005 Plans.
Left Spain and filed for bankruptcy
Criticise the enormous delays due to the
indecisiveness of the Public Administrations as well as to the lack of political
Point out the continued seepage of toxic liquids from the mine, the
uncontrolled industrial waste water discharged into the Guadiamar river and the
current delay in the establishment of a legal protection status for the area.
Was the dam correctly sited?
Was a risk assessment carried out?
Risk Assessment example: Waste Retaining Dam
Storage of waste
Severe storm event
Dam overflow and pollution of downstream waters
Location of dam to minimise consequences of release
Conservative design of dam to take account of foreseeable extreme weather