“Black day for Tejo river” as thick blanket of yellow foam ‘goes viral’

The ongoing environmental battle to highlight the slow death of the Tejo river arrived at a dismal new chapter last week, with renewed accusations that the government was just ‘sitting back’ and allowing atrocities to continue.

The “black day” for the Iberian peninsula’s longest river was highlighted by the ProTejo movement in Abrantes as “Dantesque”: a massive sea of yellow foam which instantly got massive social media dissemination.

“No fish could survive this”, said ProTejo’s tireless campaigner Arlindo Marques – already in hot water for his battle against the companies he believes to be behind the pollution.

You could see instantly that factory discharges in the area are behind the gruesome discharge, he told his followers, because upstream – that is, water coming from Spain – the river is clear.

Marques has been posting clips and photographs of the parlous state of the Tejo for years. But last week his efforts finally appeared to hit home: APA, the Portuguese environment agency was quickly ‘on the ground taking samples’ (only last month it produced a report blaming cellulose factory Celtejo for “contributing significantly” to the degraded state of the river) and the ministry of the environment (not quite as quickly) imposed various temporary measures.

Celtejo meantime vehemently refuted culpability for the incident. The pulping business recently lodged a complaint for defamation against Marques, claiming €250,000 in damages (click here).

Nonetheless, its allies are few and far between. The local council described the sea of foam as “scary” and PSD MPs rounded on environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes, sending him a 10-point questionnaire, and accusing him of “inaction”.

Contacted by Lusa, the environment ministry was at pains to say it is “accompanying in a very intense form everything that is taking place on the Tejo river” – and since making that statement, six tanker trucks have been dispatched to Abrantes to “aspirate the accumulated foam”.

A note from the environment ministry conceded that this alone would not resolve the pollution problems, but it would “reduce their visual impact”, and stop the foam travelling further downstream.

The ugly load was discharged into a nearby ETAR (water treatment plant), while the ministry has also imposed “limits on production” at the Celtejo plant.

Bloco de Esquerda MPs are meantime calling for explanations from all the various authorities involved, saying words to the effect that ‘finally, people are listening’.

BE’s submission stressed: “This time, the dimension of the catastrophe impacted hugely on public opinion, raising an ample chorus of complaints and protests… the Tejo river is the largest river on national territory, a valuable environmental, economic and social heritage: it is a benchmark of our territory and our identity”.

The Tejo’s “blackest day” may have paved the way to a brighter future.

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