Contamination threat returns to haunt bijou Lisbon development

Foul-smelling ‘contaminated residues’ have been detected as work goes ahead on a new apartment complex at Parque das Nações – the upmarket riverside area flourishing on land previously used by a Petrogal oil refinery.

Environmental group ZERO is demanding answers, suggesting the much-publicised “decontamination” of Parque das Nações – prior to its use for Expo 98 – was “a fraud” that could be putting public health at risk.

The latest strip of polluted ground has been confirmed “close to the site of Hospital CUF Descobertas” where “a large quantity of contaminated soil” was detected during the hospital’s construction.

The site is earmarked for Martinhal Residences – a new venture by the company that owns family-friendly resorts and hotels in the Algarve and Cascais (click here).

Says Zero, smells released during building works emanate from the release of gases that are “considered toxic and even carcinogenic”.

To make matters worse, the situation was well-documented before building began, says the association.

A geo-environmental study registered various pollutants: “TPH residues (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons) Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylenes (BTEX) and Zinc”. The study also revealed groundwater at the site is “contaminated with TPH and Benzene”, says ZERO.

But in spite of these findings, the association claims work is going ahead “without any kind of covering of the contaminated soil, or a system in place to capture and treat foul-smelling gases”.

Various people living in the area have already complained about the stench, but ZERO’s concerns are for the wider implications.

“After what happened with the construction of Hospital CUF Descobertas, the identification of another site with contaminated soil close to land use by Petrogal shows definitively that the decontamination operation of Parque das Nações land was done in a very incomplete way with impacts that will be visible and significant now and in the future”, says the association, stressing it is taking the matter up with the city council and the Lisbon and Vale do Tejo commission for regional coordination.

In ZERO’s opinion, the situation is “unacceptable” in that the ‘volatile compounds’ being released into the air by building work pose public health risks.

ZERO has used this latest scare to highlight the fact that legislation on the prevention and treatment of contaminated soils has been “left in a drawer” for years – even though the government “pledged to approve it during this legislature”, with the full support of parliament.

Only last year, Rádio Renascença carried a text entitled “The ghost of the refinery”, explaining that the soil at Parque das Nações is contaminated to a depth of six metres.

During excavations for CUF Descobertas’ underground carpark, a huge amount of soil was removed “but no one knows where it was taken.

“Even now, every now and then residents detect oil slicks on the Tejo and those who live close to the hospital occasionally register respiratory and eye irritations”, said the station.

The Resident meantime has been in contact with Martinhal Group co-founder Roman Stern who told us that he needs “a bit more time to analyse what is being said” but guarantees nonetheless that everything is being done “by the book”.

“There is no cutting of corners”, he told us. “For example we ensure that contaminated soil is identified and brought to the right places.

“Furthermore, we clean the water found – but so far no water was in fact contaminated.

“Also we have specialised environmental consulting companies onsite all the time to supervise and ensure that the actions and procedures agreed in the approved soil decontamination programme is implemented word by word”.

[email protected]