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  • Gib Chronicle on European Parliament and Epid Study

    Health and air pollution


    by Brian Reyes

    The European Parliament will write to the Spanish and British governments urging them to cooperate on a cross-border medical study to assess the impact of nearby heavy industries on human health.

    Although the request cannot be legally enforced, the move represents a political message that will be hard to ignore.

    The Gibraltar Government, through a contract with specialist investigators, is already embarked on gathering data for an epidemiological study in Gibraltar.

    But the Junta de Andalucia has refused to cooperate despite repeated invitations to do so.
    The issue was debated by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament yesterday, which was considering a petition from the Plataforma por el Estudio Epidemiológico.

    In the petition, the cross-border coalition of environmental groups expressed concern at the lack of cooperation on the study even though EU rules require trans-boundary initiatives on pollution.
    A second petition debated yesterday – this one from Gibraltar resident Justine Olivero – drew further attention to concerns about the impact of industry on communities around the bay.

    “The committee will send a letter to the British and Spanish authorities concerned asking them to do everything they can to update as soon as possible the information posted by the petitioner,” she said.
    “What they want to do is ask both authorities to be involved and to cooperate on the epidemiological study.”
    “The ball is now in their court.”

    This is the latest round in a long-running campaign by grass roots organisation to ensure officials in the heart of the EU in Brussels are aware of the fears of communities around the bay.
    Having admitted the Plataforma petition last year, the Petitions Committee then requested information from the European Commission.

    The Commission’s response was unequivocal and provided a damning assessment of the Junta de Andalucia, the Andalusian regional government responsible for health and pollution issues in the Campo de Gibraltar.

    “The inhabitants of Gibraltar and Campo de Gibraltar believe that they have the right to health just like other areas of Andalusia and the right to know why they die earlier here than in other similar areas,” the Commission said in its response.
    “The relevant European, Spanish, British and Andalusian legislation gives them this right, but the public body responsible for this refuses to do so.”

    “The Government of Gibraltar is willing to conduct this epidemiological study on its own territory, but obviously it should be carried out in coordination with that of the Regional Government of Andalusia.”

    The response from the Commission drew heavily on data and information presented to its officials over recent years by Spanish and local campaigners, in particular the Environmental Safety Group.
    It cited the work of professor Joan Benach, which concludes that there is a higher incidence of cancer in this area.

    One aim of the epidemiological study would be to confirm those findings and explore whether they are linked to the heavy industries in the area.
    The rationale for this study is accepted by Spanish authorities.

    The Ministry for the Environment of the Junta de Andalucía entrusted the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas de España, the leading scientific body in Spain, with a number of studies for its

    Environmental Quality Plan with a view to conducting an environmental diagnosis of the Campo de Gibraltar.
    This study concluded that “carrying out a general epidemiological study in Campo de Gibraltar and especially Puente Mayorga is recommended.”

    Public opinion is also behind this issue and the Commission noted a petition with 13,000 signatures that was submitted to the presidency of the Junta de Andalucía .

    The petition requested an independent epidemiological study for the Campo that would clearly determine whether the emission of products from surrounding industries had anything to do with the high rates of mortality and tumours that exist in this region. “The Regional Government of Andalusia, through its Ministry of Health, has refused to conduct this general study,” the Commission stated in its reply to the European Parliament.

    During the meeting, a Commission official briefed MEPs and said that emissions from the Cepsa refinery – which was specifically named in one of the petitions – complied with EU regulations. That has always been the position maintained by the company itself.

    But the explanations at the meeting were completely at odds with the Commission’s written reply to the Petitions Committee in January of this year, copies of which are publicly available.
    In the written submission, the Commission left no doubt that there was pollution in this area and that a detailed cross-border health study was necessary.

    It said it had “…already identified systemic exposure of the public in that area to excessive levels of air pollution…” under EU directives on ambient air quality.

    It also highlighted that Spain was already on formal notice over this and that the Commission was taking further steps to “enforce compliance” with air quality legislation in the area.
    In that context, the need for an epidemiological study was clear.

    “This [situation] emphasises the importance of a proper understanding of the local pollution situation and the associated health risk in order to take appropriate action as required by the directive,” the Commission said in the written response to the Petitions Committee.

    In its conclusion, it said that EU policies required understanding and cooperation at many levels – from the EU itself and member states, down to local authorities – in order to tackle health and pollution problems.

    “All these actors have a shared responsibility for making progress in this complex area,” the Commission concluded in its report to the Petitions Committee.

    The decision in the Petitions Committee yesterday drew a cautious, yet optimistic reaction from the ESG, which has been a driving force in the campaign for a cross-border study.

    Spokeswoman Janet Howitt said the response from the Commission, in particular, marked a change of tone on this issue.

    “The language is definitely beginning to reflect the gravity of the situation,” she said.

    “It’s a meaningful analysis and reflects intent.”