DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Brazil battled yesterday to prevent the spread
of toxins from reservoirs at a pulp and paper factory in southeastern
Minas Gerais state and environmental groups said it was the country's
worst industrial accident.
spill of 320 million gallons (1.2 billion liters) of toxic
materials into two rivers last weekend has left some 600,000
people without regular water supply. Officials said the contaminated
water would soon reach the sea.
dourado killed by the spill; photo by Gabriel de Paiva, published
in O Globo
"There is another reservoir at the same factory that represents
spillage risks, and experts are overflying the area to assess ways
to prevent further damage," said an official with Rio de Janeiro
state's Feema environmental body.
second reservoir at the Cataguazes de Papel factory contains some
700 million liters of toxic waste from the pulp bleaching process,
mainly caustic soda.
said rain could easily cause more spillage.
footage showed the rivers Pompa and Paraiba do Sul covered with
a white foam, dead fish floating belly-up, and people queuing for
water from trucks.
have had big oil spills but they don't bring as much damage. This
one really alters the ecology and economy in the region," said
a spokesman for the government's Ibama environmental agency.
and agricultural irrigation have been banned in the affected areas,
while ecologists said it could take the ecosystem up to 15 years
conservation group WWF blamed the contamination on a lack of preparedness
by state authorities to combat ecological disasters. It said the
residual impact of the spill was still unknown and there were also
is the worst accident we have on record," said WWF Brasil Water
For Life program coordinator Samuel Barreto.
Feema officials said damage from a 1982 heavy metals contamination
in Minas Gerais from the Paraibuna de Metais company may have been
of similar proportions.
oil giant Petrobras (PETR4.SA) (PBR.N) had been asked to lay floating
barriers where the river meets the sea. Bathing on some beaches
has also been banned, officials said.
plants on the two rivers were preparing to double water drainage
from reservoirs to dilute toxic waste.
authorities closed the factory pending an investigation. Criminal
charges could follow.