Chemical Giant Taken to Argentine Court Over Chlorine Leak

BAHIA BLANCA, Argentina, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The environmental group Greenpeace is taking Belgian chemical giant Solvay to court in an attempt to force the company to close its Indupa plant in Bahia Blanca, 550 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Buenos Aires.

Today's injunction filed by Greenpeace Argentina in the Bahia Blanca State Court follows a chlorine gas leak at Solvay's polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant August 20. The injunction demands the plant's closure until a comprehensive and independent audit of all the processes and installations have been carried out to ensure its safe operation.

chemical plant

Greenpeace claims this picture shows a cloud of chlorine gas coming from Solvay's Indupa plant. Solvay says it's water vapor caused by spraying of the damaged chlorine pipe. (Photo by Claudio Vecchiola, courtesy Greenpeace)
Greenpeace cites union sources which said the accident injured six workers. Solvay denies this.

The legal action claims, "Solvay Indupa plants in Bahia Blanca use and produce highly toxic and dangerous chemicals. The chlorine that leaked to the environment is only one of the materials that could potentially cause severe damage to workers and environmental health in case of an accident."

It continues, "Besides the risks of the materials used and manipulated in the plant, the wastes that are produced should also be taken into account. It is well known that PVC and chlorine plants produce large amounts of toxic wastes containing mercury and several organochlorines including toxic dioxins".

According to Solvay, chlorine gas leaked from one pipe in the chlorine and caustic soda production unit on August 20. "The security systems functioned perfectly and the quantities emitted into the atmosphere were very limited," read a company statement. "However, the spraying of the pipe generated a very visible cloud of water vapor, which drifted off to the port of Bahia Blanca."

"The incident had no consequences on the health of the plant's personnel nor on local residents nor on the environment."

The following day, the Buenos Aires provincial department of environment inspected the plant and shut it down for five days to investigate the accident.

"The cause of the incident is attributed to the temperature regulation system of the pipe," said Solvay.

Greenpeace Argentina said its injunction backs up the local community's call for a comprehensive audit on the current environmental and safety situation of the plant.

"Residents are currently blocking the entrances to the Solvay chlorine and PVC plant demanding that it remains closed until proven that it can operate safely," said Veronica Odriozola of Greenpeace Argentina. "If such assurances cannot be met, the plant should remain closed indefinitely."

chemical plant

Solvay's Indupa plant as seen from the air. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The group said it had collected local testimonies alleging Solvay had de-prioritized safety over other concerns at the plant and that the company only alerted the community about the accident 90 minutes after it occurred.

"Greenpeace considers that the production of chlorine and PVC is inherently toxic and therefore calls for a comprehensive phase out of this industry worldwide," said Marcelo Furtado from Greenpeace International.