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    The ESG have been notified of the accidental release of the highly toxic and flammable hydrocarbon, benzene, on Tuesday, in the industrial complex in Campamento. After some investigation, it would appear, that on the face of it, the degree of emergency is not of the highest level. However, what this highlights is the lack of adequate safety measures to cater for an ever-expanding complex.


    A spokesman for the Junta de Andalusia announced yesterday that up to100 litres of benzene had been accidentally leached into the sewage system on Tuesday and the incident had been contained relatively quickly. Given that benzene is a known carcinogen and fatal if inhaled in high doses, the lack of information to the public immediately the incident occurred, is alarming. There is no mention in the Spanish press of the symptoms that exposure to benzene fumes can cause; instead all that was declared was that it is highly volatile and toxic. While it is likely that the bulk of the benzene was rapidly diluted via the sewage system, this cannot be independently verified, as no information was made public until two days after the incident.


    The ESG hopes, however, that the statement from the Spanish authority is accurate, as it should therefore not have caused the residents and workers harm. However, with the volatile nature of benzene, it is worth mentioning that explosions could also have occurred in the underground sewers.


    The ESG is making enquiries to see whether residents who alerted the authorities on smelling the fumes in their toilet have suffered, or are suffering, any ill effects from this exposure. These can range from eye and respiratory irritation and nausea, to more serious effects such as anaemia and other blood problems, including leukaemia, with bone marrow damage following exposure to high doses.


    Only a few weeks ago, the Director of CEPSA was praising the high standards practised by the industry and associated processing plants, and how the rate of investment in safety practices matched that of the expansion of the industry. The ESG would like to see more attention given to the safety of the resident populations and their health and would also welcome more direct information to be supplied to Gibraltar and her residents as, and when, incidences occur. This failure of an adequate emergency and safety plan to deal with the protection of all residents in the locality is a real and burning issue.


    Whilst writing this communiqué, the ESG has been notified of a second spillage of toxic chemicals, this time from another company.


    The company has denied this and samples have been taken by an environmental group (Ecologistas en Accion) and presented to the Consejeria del Medio Ambiente. This appears to have been acknowledged, but then dismissed by the authorities.


    It is hoped that the Bucket Brigade campaign will address this lack of independent verification of polluting incidences and that swift implementation of the “polluter paying principle” can begin to take a serious foothold in the Industrial complex in the Bay and indeed throughout the region. Until such time we shall hope that increased supervision and surveillance can be adopted by all the industries to avoid further poisons escaping into our air and water environments.