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Clean Up Launched At One Of Czech Republic Most Dangerous Pollution Blackspots

Two workers pose for journalists at the decontamination station for the personnel at the Spolana factory, 24 January 2006, on the River Elbe around 20 kilometres north (12 miles) of Prague, as operations to clean up one of the Czech Republic's worst pollution blackspots - two industrial buildings at a chemical plant contaminated by the toxic chemical dioxin - were formally launched today. Closed in 1968 after several dozen workers were poisoned at the Spolana site, the A1420 and A1030 buildings contain a "level of dioxin a thousand times higher than permitted levels," according to the Suez group, which, through a joint venture between its Czech subsidiary SITA and the British company TSCR, is directing the decontamination and recovery work. AFP photo by Michal Cize.
by Staff Writers
Prague (AFP) Jan 24, 2006
A special decontamination unit will start operation Tuesday at one of the Czech Republic's most notorious and dangerous pollution blackspots, the dioxin contaminated Spolana factory on the River Elbe, around 20 kilometres (13 miles) north of Prague.

Around 80 Czech workers were seriously poisoned following an explosion at the Spolana site in 1968, where the company had already been producing for three years a pure version of the herbicide trichlorophen-oxyacetic acid; 2,4,5,-T.

The herbicide has an identical composition to the infamous Agent Orange, used on a large scale by the US to strip the jungle in the Vietnam war, and which was responsible for birth defects and deformations 30 years after the end of the conflict.

The last of the workers poisoned during the explosion died last year, with the company still refusing any responsibility or link between the serious illnesses they suffered and their work at the site, according to an official from the company SITA, who asked not to be identified.

SITA, part of the French group Suez, has been charged with a large part of the Spolana cleanup. It will make use of a patented decontamination process which allows the dioxin molecules to be broken up to provoke a catalytic decomposition. The first tests of the process are expected in February, according to SITA's timetable.

Dioxin dust at the Spolana site is one of the site's most toxic pollutants, able to cause cancer, genetic and immunity system disorders, said the SITA source.

Altogether, around 35,000 tonnes of dangerous waste will be dug up and treated at an on-site heat plant constructed by SITA. A team of 160 will work on the site, considered so dangerous that only those wearing full protective clothing from head to foot are allowed in the security zone, itself contained within an air-tight sarcophagus.

Around 50 tonnes of waste which can not be treated in this way, such as plastics, will be incinerated, the SITA source explained.

The goal is to transform one of the worst pollution legacies - of the many left by the former communist regime - into a "clean industrial site" by the end of 2008, as demanded by the state holding company, the National Property Fund (FNM).

The 2.7 billion koruna (90 million euros) cost of the clean-up operation will be financed by drawing on funds from the sale of Spolana and its parent company, Unipetrol. Non-qualified workers will be paid around 10 euros an hour, well above the average Czech wage, according to SITA.

The Spolana site again hit the headlines during the 2002 floods when leaks of chlorine gas and liquid provoked a chemical alert, fears among the 16,000 inhabitants of nearby Naratovice and fresh denunciations from outraged ecologists.

As the floodwater receded, Greenpeace discovered high concentrations of dioxins, DDT, and mercury in local samples of earth. The consumption of local eggs, poultry and fish was banned after confirmation of the results by government investigators.

Eighty percent controlled by the Czech petro-chemical group Unipetrol, Spolana was one of the assets bought last year by Poland's PKN Orlen in a privatisation deal which caused a political and financial scandal. Spolana currently produces PolyVinyl Chloride (PVC).

Source: Agence France-Presse

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