Cyanide spill nets Czech chemical company hefty fine

It all sounds so familiar - an accident at a chemical plant, a huge toxic slick drifting downstream, through cities and approaching the border of a second country.

But this time, rather than something that happened in far-off China, the spill is closer to home in the heart of Europe.

On Tuesday, January 17th an undisclosed, though obviously large, quantity of cyanide escaped from a riverside chemical plant in the Czech region of Bohemia and into the River Elbe (known locally as the Labe) pushing reading up beyond 30 times national safety limits.

The owners of the factory, Draslovka, have put the cause down to the malfunction of equipment that monitored toxicity in stored waste water at the plant.

English language Czech news service, The Prague Daily Monitor, quotes a representative of the Czech Environment Inspection Authority (CZIP) as saying the concentration is gradually decreasing as the slick travels downstream from the town of Kolin.

It has, however, already killed several tonnes of fish and had an as-yet-unaccessed impact on the wider ecosystem.

“According to our information and examinations it is possible to expect a large decrease in concentrations at the confluence of the Elbe and Vltava rivers at Melnik in Central Bohemia and further downstream,” CZIP spokesman Petr Makovsky told the Monitor.

Though regulators are optimistic that the spill will have been diluted sufficiently to no longer have any impact by the time it crosses the German border, officials in Dresden and other relevant authorities have been warned about the spill.

Close to the Czech border and in the path of the spill, Dresden uses treated water from the Elbe to supply residents with drinking water.

The Draslovka chemical company could be fined as much as 10 million Czech crowns (almost £240,000) for failure to keep its equipment up and running.

By Sam Bond

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