Pharmaceutical group Lonza must clean up its former Gamsenried landfill in 15 years rather than half a century as it plans, four environmental organizations hammered out on Wednesday. This is a public health issue.
In September 2020, the canton and Lonza reached a planning agreement for the remediation of the former Gamsenried landfill in Upper Valais, where the chemical company deposited waste between 1918 and 1978. The cleanup work is planned in stages and over decades. . Too long, it repeats from Doctors in favor of the environment (MfE), the Haut-Valais Group for the environment (OGUV), Pro Natura Haut-Valais and the WWF.
Other remedied landfills
The Ordinance on contaminated sites has been in force since 1998. Since then, the chemical landfill in Bonfol (JU) was cleaned between 2007 and 2016, that of Kölliken (AG) between 2005 and 2019, that of Pont Rouge in Monthey (VS ) between 2012 and 2016. There is only in Gamsenried where Lonza delays this sanitation, accuses Martin Forter, specialist in polluted places and director of the MfE, in front of the press gathered in Visp.
About a third of the plain is occupied by the Gamsenried embankment, which accumulates in layers year after year and touches the water table directly in places. The stored garbage – the equivalent of 29 football fields – has caused the most pollution of groundwater in Switzerland, NGOs note, concerned.
Certainly, they acknowledge, the sanitation of this area where heavy metals (mercury in particular) and organic pollutants are mixed is an “enormous and complex project”, but fifty years constitutes “a surreal duration”. Based on other Swiss cleanups, they believe fifteen years would be enough to carry out the cleanup work. Lonza must be “as efficient in this file as in organizing the production of the active principle of the vaccine against the coronavirus”. This is also a “public health problem”.
“Protecting your water capital”
Permeable, the landfill poses too great a risk for the inhabitants and the environment. “For decades, benzidine has entered groundwater and endangered drinking water,” explains Bernhard Aufdereggen, president of the MfE. In view of the dry climate, the region “must protect its water capital”, says WWF’s Catherine Martinson.
Benzidine is a dangerous substance that can cause bladder cancer after a long latency period. An effect first observed in 1895, adds the doctor. However, underlines Sonja Oesch of OGUV, Lonza has known about the presence of benzidine in groundwater since 2008, although the canton and the general public only knew twenty years later of the existence of large-scale pollution between Gamsenried and Visp.
And then, “Will Lonza still exist 50 years from now? By 2072, most of those who co-decided today will be dead. Which means that a significant amount of knowledge will be lost”, adds the NGO. Drawing a parallel, the latter emphasize that we no longer know what the company deposited at the time between 1918 and 1978. And that the discovery of this knowledge is made today through costly historical studies.
The NGOs are therefore calling for “safe, one-time, ie uninterrupted and definitive sanitation of the Gamsenried landfill”. For this, the company must hire several engineering companies, excavate the polluted soils and not “try on-site treatments that do not allow the values to be properly controlled”.
It should also build on-site laboratory and pollutant removal capabilities. Cleaning work is also requested to start simultaneously at several sites in the landfill. For the four NGOs, the canton of Valais must, in turn, intensify surveillance, multiply analyzes and samples to the detriment of Lonza and increase pressure on the company, even if it is a major employer in the region. Finally, a dynamic risk analysis is imperative. All these requests have already been sent to them.
This article was automatically published. source: ats