The Civil Guard investigates the pollution produced by chemical companies in the province of Huelva
We have investigated 21 people related to companies in the chlor-alkali sector
Among the detected contaminants is mercury, which has a high toxicity and is classified as a dangerous and carcinogenic substance according to current regulations.
The Civil Guard, under the instruction of the Office of the Environment and Urban Planning of Madrid, within the framework of the operation FLIXANCO, has investigated in the province of Huelva companies of the chlor-alkali sector that were contaminating both the atmosphere and the subsoil. In addition, 21 people related to these companies have been investigated.
The investigation began in 2017 as a result of an information received in which irregularities that would be produced in the activity carried out in different centers dedicated to the chlor-alkali sector in the province of Huelva were revealed. Such irregularities could have contaminated the groundwater by discharges and emissions of mercury used in the production process, while at the same time the health of the workers could have been jeopardized by possible exposures to said polluting substances.
Among the products manufactured by the company investigated is chlorine, obtained through different types of electrolysis. Until December 11, 2017, one of the production processes was based on the use of mercury cells, a technology that has been replaced by other alternatives that do not use mercury for their production. As a result, there would have been adverse environmental effects caused by alleged leaks of mercury and other pollutants, as well as deficiencies in production, in the management of waste, discharges and emissions into the atmosphere of polluting gases.
After a documentary study, together with reports provided by the different administrations, among them, the Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía, there were several discrepancies in the analyzed data, so a sampling of soils and waters in different points of the facilities of the plant. After this, the researchers found polluting substances compatible with the activity of the company that far exceeded the established parameters and with a sufficient concentration to determine the existence of ineligible risks for human health and ecosystems.
This operation has confirmed the existence of contamination in soil and groundwater caused by hazardous substances produced by the previous industrial activity of the chlor-alkali plant and the plants associated with it that made up the complex under investigation. Likewise, concentrations of these substances have been detected well above the legally established reference values that would have been accumulating in the land occupied by the industrial complex and in the groundwater.
Among the detected contaminants are mercury and certain compounds Organochlorines that have a high toxicity and are classified as dangerous and carcinogenic substances according to current regulations.
Mercury was used in electrolysis cells to obtain chlorine and caustic soda. It is a "high mobility" pollutant and can quickly transform into more toxic organic compounds when it is released into the environment. In the production process this compound is subjected to high temperatures which can cause its volatilization with the consequent contamination of the atmosphere, soil, surface and groundwater, putting the health of the workers of the industry at risk. However, through the Execution Decision of the European Commission, which approves the best available techniques for the Chlor-Alkali sector, this production system has been replaced by other less polluting technologies.
The regulation aims to ensure and improve the environmental performance of these production processes and thus reduce and control the pollution of the atmosphere, water and soil, through the establishment of pollution prevention and control systems. Likewise, it is about protecting workers against the risks derived or that may arise from the presence of chemical agents in the workplace or from any activity with chemical agents.
The investigation has been developed by agents belonging to SEPRONA, who have had the support of members of the Technical Unit Assigned to the Office of the Environment and Urbanism and the National Institute of Toxicology.