Population revolts as coal “burns in the mines of Pejão” belching out sulphur since October

Experts call it a “geological curiosity” – but the truth is that local people have had their fill of it.

Coal has been burning in the mines of Pejão since the devastating fires of October 15 that killed at least 46 people.

The smell of sulphur is relentless – despite the fact that local firefighters have tried everything (including “large quantities of water”) to quell the smoke billowing up through the ground.

Now, experts have been called in to evaluate the situation which they maintain is not serious.

Not so says former mine worker António Pinto who has told Rádio Renascença that the situation is actually “very worrying”.

Pinto explains that the combustion of coal residues remaining in the mine creates gases that can be visible to the naked eye and harmful to public health, particularly for people with respiratory issues.

He has told the station that the smell of gases coming out of the ground is already affecting residents in a nearby old people’s home which, he believes, should be evacuated.

RR explains that the mine closed down in 1994 at which point its stockpiles of coal “were covered with a landfill site, by imposition of the European Union”.

Warns Pinto, the longer it takes to put the fires out, the deeper they could go, making the problems “harder to eliminate”.

But Pinto is not one of the “experts” called in from EDM (the State’s mining development company) undertaking its evaluation today in the region of Castelo de Paiva.

RR adds that the CCDR of the north (commission for regional development) says the initiative is designed to “dispel the hypothesis of local impacts around the mines of Pejão”.

The commission has added that as far as data for atmospheric pollution taken since October is concerned – particles (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3) – “do not exceed value limits”.

It remains to be seen what comes out of today’s evaluation and how authorities move forwards.

Says RR, local mayors are behind their populations wanting a return to clean air and peace of mind.

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