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Chemical Contamination Hits Local Economy Downstream With PM-Rhine Pollution, Bjt

November 13, 1986

UNKEL, West Germany (AP) _ When the toxic slick from last week’s Swiss chemical disaster drifted past this Rhine River village, Volker Kolloge’s riverside hotel was full. Now it’s almost empty.

Although chemicals spilled into the Rhine at Basel, Switzerland, about 300 miles upstream, they eroded the tourist trade that is the foundation of Unkel’s economy.

Only eight guests remained in Kolloge’s 50-room hotel on Wednesday.

″Unless something changes quick, we may as well just close up for the whole winter,″ said Kolloge, the hotel’s 42-year-old manager.

Elsewhere in this village of 4,000, residents complained of empty restaurants and said they would no longer enjoy the Rhine River eels that are a local speciality.

In the Rhineland Palatinate state capital of Mainz, 66 miles upstream, officials advised residents to avoid the river and keep animals away from it.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg state, further upstream, environmental authorities said it was possible farmland fronting the river could become contaminated if the Rhine flooded soon.

In Unkel, officials shut down the city’s water supply early Saturday, after the chemical slick drifted past late the previous day. The local fire department began delivering water from nearby towns almost round-the-clock.

Unkel’s water came from wells near the river. The water supply for nearby villages is further from the river and remained unaffected.

″People don’t stay in hotels where they are worried about water,″ said Hans-Jakob Muellegan, owner of the Hotel Bellevue in nearby Rhoendorf. He said his village’s water supply was not affected, and that business had not suffered as in Unkel.

Unkel, a favorite among hikers who come to this area, is a picturesque village of cobblestoned streets nestled between the Rhine river and vineyard- covered hills.

It is just nine miles the Drachenfels cliffs, where - according to German legend - the mythological warrior Siegfried slew the dragon and bathed in its blood to become invincible.

Normally, fishermen sit on the river’s grassy banks, casting lines and nets into the water. On Wednesday, a unseasonably warm and sunny day, the riverbanks were nearly deserted.

″I’m afraid there will not be any more fishing for the next couple of years,″ said Anna Simons, a longtime Unkel resident.

Mayor Wolfgang Kaiser said some 10,000 people in Unkel and three other villages were affected by the water shutoffs.

Kaiser said he had no idea how long it would be before the villages could resume using their normal springs, and added he was not yet certain how much it was costing to arrange for an alternate water supply.

Kaiser, hotel owners and others said they were hopeful of receiving compensation from Sandoz, the Swiss chemical company that was the source of the ecological disaster.

About 30 tons of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides - some containing mercury - washed into the Rhine on Nov. 1 when firefighters doused a blaze at a Sandoz chemical warehouse near Basel.

Although officials were predicting the pollution had caused long-term damage to the Rhine, residents here said they could not see a difference. The Rhine here has long been muddy and grey.

Environmental officials said the chemical slick had left German territory last weekend, and added that water pollution levels had returned to normal Wednesday.

But Werner Bauer, spokesman for the Baden-Wuerttemberg Environment Ministry in Stuttgart, said officials were trying to assess the effects of the spill.

″It will be some time before we get a firm overview on the lasting ecological and economic damage,″ he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ″But we suspect it will be very, very serious.″

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