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  • Slow Bhopal ?

    On Saturday evening, it was brought to the ESG’s attention that there was a significant amount of sulphur being emitted from the Bay’s CEPSA petro-chemical plant. This was the second major polluting incident in just 2 weeks and it became clear from a few phone calls that it was causing great discomfort and anxiety among residents of the adjacent communities.

    As the sulphur cloud floated over Campamento and La Linea towards Gibraltar, it is understood that over 30 calls were made in 1 hour to the emergency 112 number by concerned citizens. Anyone trying to use the Junta’s air monitoring website to check information on the relative safety of the air was unable to do so; the site would be down until Sunday. Spanish environmental groups were inundated with calls from the worried public, with complaints of eye and respiratory irritations from residents in Puente Mayorga and Guadarranque, rife.
    The health effects associated with sulphur dioxide exposure are well documented in the scientific literature. These include breathing problems, respiratory illness, changes in the lung’s defences, and worsening respiratory and cardiovascular disease. People with asthma or chronic lung or heart disease are the most sensitive to sulphur dioxide.

    While it has been reported that Saturday’s levels were within legal limits, the ESG would like to stress that they were considerably higher than normal. Moreover, we believe it is important to reiterate that legal limits for emissions are not simply set to protect the health of neighbouring residents, but rather are significantly “softened” by powerful industry demands.

    As Saturday’s incident transpired, La Junta’s senior environmental Minister, Fuensanta Coves, had to divert her attention away from an upbeat talk in Seville on Andalusian industries’ compliance with Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regulation, towards the Bay of Gibraltar. It is understood that Sra Coves has asked to meet with CEPSA directors this week to discuss operational standards. Referring to the two recent incidents (both of which are apparently under investigation by her Ministry), she is quoted as saying; “we cannot allow such lapses in the 21st century”. Having seen continued growth in production volume for many years now, it is a big relief to also hear Sra Coves talk of the possibility of limiting the plant’s operations. The ESG believes it is high time that she act upon these words and demand, and enforce, significant reductions to the environmental health risks associated with this “slow Bhopal”.

    While action from Sra Coves’s ministry is pending, the residents of Puente Mayorga and Guadarranque remain deeply concerned that the CEPSA petro-chemical plant is not operating with due respect for their health and fear that until fatalities in the Bay are clearly linked to CEPSA’s operations, nothing will change.