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Spain Park Saved From Toxic Liquid

April 26, 1998

HUELVA, Spain (AP) _ Authorities claimed Sunday that a hastily built sand-and-earth dike protected one of Europe’s most prized nature reserves when a nearby artificial lake at a mine burst, spewing millions of gallons of toxic liquid.

However, several environmental groups disputed the claim and said not enough was being done to save Donana Park in southwestern Spain.

Greenpeace said in a statement that its members witnessed some of the polluted water lapping over the dike and invading one area of the park.

A lake at the Swedish-run Aznalcollar iron pyrite mine, some 35 miles north of Donana, broke its banks early Saturday and flooded the nearby Guadiamar River.

State Secretary for the Environment Juan Luis Muriel told the national news agency EFE that the dirt mounds insulated the park and diverted the polluted water downstream to the larger Guadalquivir River.

Another environmental group, the Nature Defense Association, called the spillage ``one of the worst in Europe,″ saying it affected one of the continent’s most valued wildlife areas. It said a 25-mile stretch of the Guadiamar was totally black from the spillage.

Greenpeace member Eva Hernandez reportedly said she saw dead fish and crabs washed up on the banks of the Guadiamar, whose acidity was said to be burning everything along its path. Greenpeace said it was sending a boat to the area to assess the situation.

No one was available at Donana park or at government offices Sunday afternoon for comment.

Earlier Sunday, government officials warned that areas surrounding the park could suffer and acknowledged that the spill covered the Guadiamar with a thick oily film.

However, Environment Minister Isabel Tocino, who toured the outlying areas of Donana reserve, declared ``the marshland is safe.″

But the spill, containing residues of cadmium, zinc and other metals, overran some 10,000 acres of surrounding agricultural land, including many olive groves.

It was not immediately known how much liquid spilled from the artificial lake. But police and environmental groups estimated the amount at millions of gallons.

Donana, a 185,000-acre marsh-dominated reserve, is located just west of where the Guadalquivir enters the Atlantic Ocean.

Some 6 million migratory birds flock each year to its salt marshes, which are also home to lynx, otter, eagle and other endangered species. About 40,000 people visit the sanctuary a year.

National radio said Tocino asked the regional government to order a halt to all production at the Aznalcollar mine, which is owned by the Swedish company Boliden Aspirsa. It also reported that a lawsuit had been filed at a local court citing the spillage.

Lennart Marklund, a spokesman for Boliden, told Swedish media that the cause of the disaster was unknown but it appeared the ground below the lake was not stable.

Boliden’s president Anders Bulow said workers were ``constantly measuring the dam’s walls″ and that there had been no warnings at all that this could happen. He said the incident would end up as an insurance matter and that his preliminary judgement was that costs would be limited.

Meanwhile, the leading daily El Pais reported that a former director of the Aznalcollar mine called on the regional government to close the lake in 1996 for fear of a major ecological disaster.

Greenpeace said there have been several complaints about the company’s practices.

Update hourly