Shell faces court action over polluting Brazilian shanty-town
Shell Chemicals has admitted that slum dwellers may have been exposed to persistant organic pollutants (POPs) for the last 25 years.
The company admitted that it had contaminated the groundwater of a shanty-town in Paulínia, west of Sao Paulo, 16 years after the closure of its pesticide plant in the community, Brazilian media and environmental NGOs said on 16 February. Shell’s own analyses show that residents leaving near to the disused agrochemicals plant may have been subjected to POPs. The tests show that levels of organochlorinates in the subsoil, situated only 150 metres from an important local water source, the Atibaia River, were 16 times above the legal limit.
The substances found, aldrin, dieldrin and endrin, which are POPs, are illegal in Brazil, and were left over from production between 1975 and 1985. The chemicals were recently also the subject of an immediate ban at a UN conference on POPs. As yet there is no confirmation that residents have been adversely affected by the chemicals, reports say. A spokesperson for the state sanitation company, Cetesb, said that all the samples taken were found well below local water supplies and that he didn’t believe that anyone had drunk contaminated water.
Nevertheless, the state’s environment secretary has requested the evacuation of the 300-strong community, which cannot now use water in the area. Shell has begun distributing supplies, as well as entering into negotiations over possible compensation. The town’s mayor has also requested Cetesb has ordered Shell to clean up the site and it now has 30 days to come up with a remediation plan. Tests of the Atibaia River, a major tributary of another which provide water for half a million people, are also underway.
In 1995, Shell sold the plant to the American company Cyanamid and the German chemical giant BASF, which now owns the plant. As part of the sale agreement, Shell recognised the contamination of its grounds, but not the surrounding area, pledged a clean up. Until today no decontamination action on site has taken place.