On Monday activists from the environmental group Greenpeace staged a dramatic protest at the Spolana chemical works in Neratovice on the river Labe or Elbe, north of Prague. Greenpeace say the plant has contaminated the river's flood plain, and that there would be a disaster if a flood occurred. Two dozen activists from six countries took part in the protest.
Greenpeace activist Jan Haverkamp was with the protesters in Neratovice, and he explained to me what was the main problem in Spolana:
"The main problem is that Spolana refuses to do anything about the acute danger that left over contamination posed to its workers and to the population and to the population downstream Elbe. On Spolana, there are two main kinds of pollution at the moment that deserve attention, one fact that there's dioxin pollution from the former production of agent orange, two of the buildings air and dust is blown out through cracks and holes and all the air around the buildings contains three thousand times more dioxins than allowed in neighbouring Germany. And there's an area which is polluted by mercury, 250 tons are in the soil near the buildings there from the chlorine production - and the area can be flooded by Elbe every twenty years. It means there's a possibility that mercury is washed down into the Elbe and causes trouble there downstream."
According to Spolana's assistant director, Zdenek Joska, the chemical plant has already begun a clean-up operation:
"It's nothing new, we know about this problem and we are not trying to conceal it. We are well aware that the soil samples show the permitted norms have been exceeded, that's why we are doing our best to repair the damage to the environment."
Back in the early 1990s, the National Property Fund promised it would allocate money to deal with the environmental damage caused by the plant. So why is it taking so long when Spolana says it's well aware of the problem? Jan Haverkamp again:
"The liquidation is an extremely complicated issue, one needs a careful study before he can finish it, and the estimation now is that it will take another three or four years, and we are happy that they do that because it needs to be done very well. But that was not the point yesterday. The point yesterday was that they know it not only since the 90s, but already for 30 years, that there's also an acute problem. I don't know why they don't want to react to that, it's complete stubbornness, they keep saying ' we are working on the liquidation', it's very nice but they should now prevent the contaminated area from being flooded, they should coffer the dioxin buildings air-tight. That costs money and maybe not the National Property Fund but Spolana should pay, but I think everybody who is responsible for the finance must be responsible for the people who can suffer under it."
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