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Spain's Claim About Spill Is Disputed

April 27, 1998|From Times Wire Services

HUELVA, Spain — Environmental groups Sunday disputed claims by Spain's government that millions of gallons of toxic liquid that spilled when a mining dam ruptured were blocked from reaching one of Europe's most prized nature reserves.

Environment Minister Isabel Tocino declared Donana National Park in southwestern Spain safe after touring it Sunday.

"Fortunately, Donana has been saved," Tocino told national radio. "The contaminated waters will not reach the wetlands because all the systems that were put in place worked."

But the environmental group Greenpeace said it was premature to call the emergency over. It claimed that hastily constructed dikes had not prevented the spill from contaminating the 185,000-acre reserve, which is mostly marshland.

About 6 million migratory birds flock each year to Donana's salt marshes, which are also home to lynx, otter, eagle and other endangered species.

The Nature Defense Assn. described the spill as one of Europe's worst and said a 25-mile stretch of the Guadiamar River also was contaminated. The river runs next to the park.

It was not immediately known how much of the toxic liquid, which contained residues of cadmium, zinc and other metals, spilled from the reservoir.

On Saturday, workers rushed to build sand and earthen dikes along the park's edge after the reservoir at the Canadian-owned iron pyrite mine, 35 miles north of Donana, broke its banks and poured into the river.

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