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Swiss Admit Delay in Rhine Toxic Spill Alert

November 12, 1986|Associated Press

ZURICH, Switzerland — Switzerland conceded today to top officials from countries along the Rhine that a misunderstanding delayed an international alert for 24 hours after a disastrous toxic spill from a chemical plant fire, and it said it was ready to discuss damage claims.

Swiss Chief of the Interior Alphons Egli told the meeting here that he hoped any damage claims could be settled without legal action, a West German delegation spokesman said.

About 30 tons of agricultural chemicals washed into the Rhine on Nov. 1 when firefighters doused a blaze at a Sandoz chemical plant warehouse near Basel, Switzerland, and caused an environmental crisis.

A 25-mile-long slick of chemicals drifted downstream along the 820-mile Rhine, killing an estimated 500,000 fish and eels, harming other aquatic life and endangering drinking water.

The Swiss statement about the delay in alerting other countries was distributed at a closed-door meeting called by Switzerland in response to strong criticism for its handling of the emergency.

Attending were environment ministers from France, West Germany and the Netherlands. Luxembourg and the Common Market also sent representatives.

Basel authorities said the international Rhine pollution emergency center at Mannheim, West Germany, assured them it was aware of the spill hours before actually sounding an alarm. The statement did not explain the misunderstanding.

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