Spanish National Park opposes re-opening of mine

The management board of Europe's largest nature reserve has officially opposed the re-opening of the Los Frailes zinc mine that caused a major ecological disaster by spilling contaminated wastes into the Agrio and Guadiamar rivers, which feed one of the major water sources to the Doñana National Park, last April.

The head of the board, Spain’s Environment Minister, Isabel Tocino, explained that the plans presented by the mining company, Boliden Apirsa, had shortcomings in areas essential to guarantee environmental security, and failed to guarantee that such an accident could not re-occur.

The spill, caused by the rupture of a tailings dam last 25 April, covered 200m either side of the river, for a stretch of 40km. An estimated 4-5 million cubic metres of acidic water were discharged into the river. Tailings materials containing sulphur, zinc, copper, iron and lead were also discharged. According to Reuters, the clean-up operation has cost around $16million/month since the incident.

Boliden is planning to use an open mine, that is still half full of wastes recovered from the spill, to store tailings from the operation of the Los Frailes mine. The board said that the company’s plans did not guarantee the protection of ground and surface waters from the storage of tailings in the open mine, and did not include an emergency management plan, for if a similar accident were to occur.

The final decision on re-opening of the mine will rest with the regional government of Andalucia. According to El Pais, regional government officials have spoken out, saying that the Environment Minister’s statement was premature, as she should have waited for two key technical reports, on the impermeability of the open mine used to store tailings and the discharge of treated wastewater to the river, before forming an opinion. The two officials responsible for the regional government’s decision agreed that the statement was premature, yet the industry councillor was highly critical of the board’s decision, while the environment councillor said it was both understandable and desirable.

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