8 November 2022
Commissioner of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries
Mr. Virginijus Sinkevičius
I am writing you concerning one of the largest toxic waste sites in the European Union in the “Marismas del Río Tinto”, an area protected by the Natura 2000 network that is situated 500 meters from the city of Huelva, Spain. While there seems to be a partial formal compliance with Community law a closer look at the facts reveal a gross lack of compliance with EU laws (Directive 2008/98/EC, the Council Directive 92/43/EEC, Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC, among others). Twelve years ago have gone by since the paralysation of the accumulation of toxic waste on this site in accordance with the requirements of the European Commission given to the Spanish authorities in the infringement procedure file no. 2007/2448 and after the final report approved by unanimously by the European Parliament of the fact-finding mission to Huelva of the Petitions Committee for the year 2010 (PE439.341v02-00), whose recommendations concluded that: “...The entire site must be decontaminated in order to keep the region in a state that is in accordance with all current European legislation. The "polluter pays" principle must be upheld. In case of company closure stakeholders, they, despite everything, will have to ensure that the site they occupy is totally decontaminated and that a plan is applied for the rehabilitation and renovation of the area in question.” (…) "The authorities and the European Commission should discuss priorities with a view of obtaining EU funding for this type of sustainable development project respectful of the integrity of the region, its population and its environment” (…) “Any new study or future planning project should have the participation of petitioners, local associations and representative organizations in order to contribute to the identification of viable solutions”. In contrast to these recommendations, over the past 12 years, Spanish authorities have not done anything to find a global solution for decontaminating the whole site, citizen, and stakeholder participation has been sidelined and the opinions of scientific experts have been ignored.
The approved Fertiberia project only affects land commissioned by the State to the company in zones 2 to 5 and as such is not a “global plan” of the administrations to rehabilitate the entire site. It is an incomplete project of the company responsible for the illegal activity because it excludes zones 0 and 1, which remain outside the plans of restoration. Zone "0" corresponds to contaminated land located where the industries responsible for the damage that have closed in the past decade. Zone 1 of the toxic waste site that is excluded the restoration plans is the responsibility of the Port of Huelva has also been highly contaminated by phosphogypsum and other materials without any existing decontamination plans by Spanish authorities. In zone 0, without citizen participation, the
construction of a Atlantic Copper company's new highly polluting metal incineration and smelter has been approved by local and regional authorities with new chimneys situated less than 500 meters from the city by means of manipulating official health reports that affirm the lack of affected population within a legal radius of less than 1,000 meters and in the environmental evaluation there has been no consideration of alternative locations in the exterior Port. This highly polluting industry, which has been declared of “strategic interest, has received 25 million euros from EU Next Generation funding while no decontamination plans have been drafted for Zone 0.
In the same way, also without citizen participation, in zone 1, the port of Huelva intends to build a photovoltaic plant on top of soil also highly contaminated by phosphogypsum and other dangerous industrial chemical residues without any restoration plan in contradiction with Community Law.
At the end of 2020, the Spanish government granted the Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) to the project of the company Fertiberia for the covering in situ of waste in zones 2 to 5. Against Community law, the DIA fragmented the project excluding zone 4 from consideration. It was approved without considering more than 3,000 arguments presented by citizens, committees of experts, universities and associations.
The "Participation Body for the search for solutions to the rafts de fosfoyesos” is a sectoral council created in 2015 by the city council of Huelva and presided by the mayor of Huelva.
After the refusal of the fertilizer industry Fertiberia to participate within aforementioned organ of participation, the work of the “Participation Body” advanced with experts from various universities, 20 scientists from the universities of Huelva and Granada, the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), the Institute Geological and Mining (IGME) and ISGlobal and the creation of a group of experts from the different branches of scientific knowledge to analyze the feasibility of the Fertiberia project, consisting in covering with soil the phosphogypsum, and undertook the study of the search for solutions to the phosphogypsum pools and to inform periodically to the participation body. These investigations have been publicly financed. The first results of the studies analyzed were reported in several meetings of the phosphogypsum participation body, The results of the scientific studies revealed the technical infeasibility and environmental dangers of subjecting the Huelva marsh to greater weight(from burying the contaminated ground) due to the measured subsidence and settlement which could cause enormous seepage of toxic pollutants into the river through the existing channels in the sub-base of the marsh, caused by the rising and falling tides. The scientific experts also stated that the project of Fertiberia would not resolve the long-term environmental and public health problems of the toxic waste site mandated by EU law (Directive 2008/98/EC, the Council Directive 92/43/EEC, Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), among others). These results of the expert committee reports were provided within the public information period of the Impact Statement Environment of the Ministry of the Environment by different groups of the organ of participation, but they were finally totally ignored by the central Spanish administration. The results of the scientific
expert group have been hidden by the Huelva local council, which, since 2020, has rarely convened the participation body to be informed of the new scientific information, which proves the environmental unviability of the Fertiberia project.
Last June, the national Spanish newspaper "El País" published that the scientists of the aforementioned committee of experts feel cheated because the Spanish Authorities "bury science" and their reports financed with public money remain hidden:
“Huelva keeps in a drawer the scientific studies that indicate the risk of
bury toxic waste next to the city. The City Council commissioned experts from the CSIC
and universities reports that question the burial under clay of some enormous
"Let's bury science because we don't like what it says, and forget about the
phosphogypsum despite the demonstrated problem of structural stability. When?
We don´t know when the perfect storm will hit, but we are in a unique place in the
world because there are no similar enormous piles of phosphogypsum on a marsh”, denounces one of the researchers from the University of Huelva. The scientist demands anonymity because he was forced to sign a confidentiality clause that prohibits you from disseminating information without the permission of the Town Hall. This confidentiality clause and the non-release of the scientific results is a gross violation of the Directive on access to environmental information (DIRECTIVE 2003/4/EC).
“The conclusions contrary to the Fertiberia plan have not been disclosed to the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, which gave its approval to the restoration project in 2020, nor to the Junta de Andalucía, which has announced the granting of an environmental permit so that work can begin before the end of this year. In this way, the Spanish Administrations will authorize a plan to authorize a plan valued at 66 million and that will last a decade, contrary to the much of the scientific research carried out between 2015 and 2020.”
Considering that the Declaration of Environmental Impact of the land concessions to Fertiberia were resolved favorably by the Spanish government despite being fractionalized and incomplete (only zones 2, 3 and 5 excluding zone 4) and without assessing available scientific knowledge and given that the Andalusian government will soon approve the environmental clearance of the AAI without considering the work of experts and their scientific reports, the results have been leaked by the experts themselves and published by groups such as Mesa de la Ría de Huelva, Greenpeace and Ecologistas en Acción. The processing of the Integrated Environmental Authorization (AAI- IPPC) of the Fertiberia waste restoration project will be favorably considered as announced by the Minister of the Environment of Andalusia ("the duty of the Andalusian Regional Government in the process of restoration of the phosphogypsum pond is to process the solution provided by the Spanish Government”ii.
Considering that the Andalusian Government financed the scientific research of the committee of experts that has not been taken into account nor made public officially,
I request that the European Commission, in compliance with Community law and in accordance with the recommendations of the final report of the fact-finding mission to Huelva approved unanimously by the Petitions Committee in 2010, require the Spanish authorities:
1. To draft a coordinated “Special Plan for comprehensive decontamination” (not fractionalized) of the entire confluence area of the rivers Tinto and Odiel including from the port areas "0" and "1" where the industries and the first toxic waste discharges were located, up to zone 5, with the supervision of process by the European Commission to ensure strict compliance with Community Law and the participation of all petitioners, environmentalists, stakeholders, administrations and scientific experts.
2. To review and reject the fractionalized DIA that has been approved and to deny the AAI authorization to the Fertiberia phosphogypsum capping project in keeping with the innumerable warnings against the project already provided by scientific studies in relation to the damage it will cause to public health and the environment of areas protected by EU law.
3. And finally, to paralyze in contaminated zones "0" and "1", industrial projects that do not respect the safety and health of the local population and its environment, such as the new foundry of Atlantic Copper “Circular” that has used false data concerning the affected population nor has it evaluated alternative locations further away from densely populated areas. We also request that that the projects that have been proposed involve the participation of the petitioners, local associations and representative bodies in order to contribute to the identification of viable solutions.
4. To assure the strict compliance by Spanish Authorities with the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC, the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and the Directive on access to environmental information (DIRECTIVE 2003/4/EC).
Thank you for your time.
MEP Margrete Auken
Report of Scientific Experts to the Participation Panel
anexos al informe: http://www.mesadelaria.es/documentos/anexos-informe-fosfoyesos.zip
Link to the peer-reviewed scientific study that confirms the satellite measurements that show the existence of constant and continual processes of collapse of the toxic waste site and marshes.