Rural idyll wrecked by spill

Officials in Spain's Galicia say they have managed to contain a major toxic spill which polluted a river following a fire at a German-owned chemical plant on Friday.

Over 100,000 of the region’s residents were left without mains water over the weekend as the authorities turned it off while it was tested for contamination.

Some 40 lorries were brought in to deliver potable water to the scattered towns and villages of the rural region.

According to local environment groups around 150,000 litres of chemicals leaked into the Umia River from the burning industrial plant, leaving an easily-visible turquoise slick five kilometres long.

The pill killed hundreds off fish and gave those involved in coastal shellfish farming, a major industry in the region, with sleepless nights.

Shellfish farms at the mouth of the Arousa River, into which the Umia flows, were temporarily closed down as a precautionary measure but were later reopened after the regional government announced the spill had been contained an ‘not one drop’ of the chemicals had reached the Arousa.

The spill was described by the local environmental watchdog as ‘highly toxic’ and contained carcinogenic petrol-based chemicals.

It also suggested Brenntag, the German company that owns the chemical factory which was the source of the leak, could expect to be prosecuted.

Three dykes were built across the watercourse to contain the slick and tonnes of sand were poured into the river to filter the chemicals.

Galicia has suffered more than its share of environmental woes in the past and is perhaps best remembered by environmentalists and the wider public for the catastrophic Prestige oil spill in 2003 which devastated the Atlantic coastline.

In recent weeks it has grappled with extensive forest fires as the summer drought left woodland tinderbox dry. Some 30 arrests have been made in connection with suspected arson.

Perhaps ironically, the EU’s portait of the regions says: “few Spanish regions have an environment as unspoilt as Galicia’s: the reason is mainly that most of Galicia’s population lives in small towns with little industrial activity.

“Many areas, particularly those inland, despite being economically backward and lacking facilities, have rivers, forests and countryside which are scarcely capable of improvement.”

Sam Bond

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