Environmentalists warn sulphur cloud over Setúbal could have “irreversible consequences”

As local populations ‘held hostage’ this week by the toxic cloud over Setúbal return to taking up their lives, environmentalists are warning that there could be “irreversible consequences” as a result of the fire that destroyed two sulphur storage warehouses on Tuesday (click here).

Sources for both Quercus and Zero have gone as far as to suggest that Sapec, the international agro-business that owns the warehouses, has “camouflaged the real dimension of the problem”.

Quercus particularly considers the Sapec announcement that the toxic cloud “did not constitute a danger to the population” was both “totally irresponsible, and very serious”, on the basis that people were being misled.

As it was, 170 schools remained closed until this morning, 20 people required hospital treatment (one 10-year-old children still being interned on Friday) and health chiefs advised thousands to stay home and close their windows in a number of press conferences throughout the week.

Carla Graça of Zero says authorities’ involvement cannot stop with the return to air quality deemed to have “levels of sulphur dioxide well below established legal limits”.

She said Zero wants health issues of local people “properly followed by the authorities” and “not simply in respect of short-term effects like eye, throat, nose and lung irritations, but into the irreversible effects”.

As TSF radio reported on Wednesday, health and environment authorities registered sulphur dioxide levels over Setúbal as being 500 times above the average, at 503 micrograms per cubic metre, the day after the fire – at which point children, the elderly and people suffering respiratory and cardiac problems were advised to remain indoors.

As Zero explains, authorities’ reaction may have been too little, too late.

“We need to evaluate responsibilities, hold an inquiry”, said the group. “Because there are consequences to public health and certainly also for the surrounding ecosystems”.

The cloud is understood to have affected communities for “tens of kilometres” as it spread northwards.

Curiously, national media reports are bereft of any follow-up comments from Sapec.

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