Oceana blasts plans to dump mercury contaminated sediment out at sea

High levels of toxic mercury in material, dedged out of Mahón harbour (Balearic Islands), could affect marine organisms and enter the food chain

Press Release Date: January 10, 2013

Location: Madrid


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Oceana has requested the Spanish Institute of Oceanography report on management of dredged bottoms.

Oceana, invoking the Law on freedom of access to environmental information, has requested the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) report on management of the material extracted in the dredging of Mahón harbour (Minorca island, Balearics). This project involves the extraction of 200,000 m3 of sediment, with a mercury content of 2.28 mg/kg as well as other heavy metals which come mainly from the Minorca jewellery, naval, and textile industries. Oceana is firmly opposed to the dumping of this dredged sediment into the sea.

IEO carried out a study in 2003 which successive governments kept concealed until 2011, when the Spanish National High Court ruled that the information should be supplied to Oceana. This study disclosed that several species of high commercial value displayed alarming levels of mercury and other heavy metals. Mercury is a toxic substance which affects neuron development. For this reason, the Health Ministry made an official recommendation for pregnant women, women who might be pregnant, and children under 3 to avoid eating these species.

“We are not against the dredging of Mahón harbour, but given the worrying mercury pollution in the sea, an alternative must be sought to avoid dumping these polluted materials into the water”, says Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe.

A European Food Safety Authority study was recently published, stating that the mercury level that is regarded as dangerous in fish has been reduced from 1.6 micrograms per kilo of fish to 1.3. “This update, which increases precautions as regards consumption of mercury-polluted fish, proves once again that the effect of these toxic substances on people should not be underestimated”, says Minorcan researcher Marta Carreras, a scientist at Oceana.

Learn more: Mercury pollution