Tejo pollution controversy deepens

With Tejo fishermen trying to sue the Portuguese government for €100 million in damages, the fight to prove who or what is behind the noble river’s systemic pollution has now become truly ugly.

Público reported over the weekend that “someone or something” made it “exceptionally difficult” for environmental inspectors to obtain water samples in the usual (automatic) way.

“One, two, three times”, they tried alongside the pipes of pulping factory Celtejo which APA (the Portuguese environment agency) believes to be 90% responsible for polluting discharges that last month led to a dense ‘sea of yellow foam’ (click here).

But each time, the samples failed to register, said the paper.

After a statutory 24 hour period placed in the water, collector vessels were either empty, or simply contained “a bit of foam”.

Following three 24-hour attempts with no clear results, inspectors decided it was time to “change tactics”: a further automatic collection was put in place, at the same time as operatives performed manual collections.

Those manually-obtained samples are now due to report on the ‘accumulation of organic matter’ in the river.

It is hoped they will be able to narrow the source/s down as the 10-day period in which Celtejo has been ordered to operate at 50% capacity runs out.

Expresso explains that tests at the end of January on the foam that appeared the week before, showed levels of cellulose in the water around Vila Velha de Ródão – where Celtejo and two other pulping factories, Navigator and Paper Prime, are sited – at 5000 times above normal.

APA then requested further tests, which ran into the “mysterious difficulties”.

Celtejo continues to refute any responsibility for the pollution, stressing the bad publicity and 10-day sanction is ruining its business.

Meantime, the Movement of Tejo fishermen has lodged a €100 million compensation claim with the European Court of Human Rights, demanding that the State pays for all the years in which fish have been dying and fishermen’s livelihoods thrown to the winds.

Said Mário Costa for the group: “The government has been negligent, incompetent and conniving”, leading families to ruin “with vehicles, homes and boats seized” for non-payment of debts.

The movement wants the environment ministry to start acting by opening nearby dams up into the river, clearing sediments, negotiating with Spain to “allow more water” into the Portuguese portion of the river, and dealing with Celtejo to ensure “much more” is done for the Tejo’s overall health.

As reports have explained, the fishermen do not want to “damage Celtejo’s” business per se, they simply want the Tejo protected so that they can go back to earning their livings.

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