Oceana denounces Spain before the EU for allowing the chlorine industry to continue contaminating seas with mercury

Euro MP David Hammerstein asks the European Commission about the Spanish government’s alleged violation of the Directive to prevent and control contamination

Press Release Date: May 19, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

The agreements the Spanish government reached with the chlorine-alkali industries are at the core of Oceana’s denouncement before the European Commission and Euro MP David Hammerstein’s question to the same institution, on behalf of The Greens.


In 2006, the Ministry of the Environment reached agreements with the governments of Aragón, Galicia, Cantabria, Cataluña and Andalucía to allow mercury cells to be used until 2020 for companies based in these territories, despite the fact that EU Directive 96/61/CE called for the elimination of this obsolete and contaminating technology by October 30th 2007.


The main sources of ocean contamination by mercury are chlorine-alkali factories, consuming 30% of this heavy metal used by the industry, and carbon energy plants and garbage incineration plants.


Due to the high levels of contamination discovered in a variety of marine species, various governments have had to issue health warnings about consuming fish with elevated levels of mercury, like swordfish and sharks.


The use of mercury cells to produce chlorine is an outdated method that is highly contaminating and other alternatives are currently available on the market. In fact, most industries have already abandoned the use of this technology for other, less contaminating systems, such as membranes.


EU legislation requires all member states to eliminate contaminants from chlorine-alkali plants, promoting the use of Best Available Techniques (BAT) and specifically indicating that mercury use cannot be included under this denomination. Furthermore, the OSPAR Convention for the conservation of the North East Atlantic –of which Spain is a party- also agreed to the elimination of this practice.


Despite this, and in violation of the EU Directive, the Spanish government and various governments of autonomous regions reached voluntary agreements with the chemical industry to prolong the period for eliminating this technology.


Currently, there are still 8 chlorine-alkali companies that have signed these agreements to continue using mercury cells in Spain. Most of these plants are located in Cataluña and Aragón (3 and 2 respectively). The rest of the autonomous regions, Galicia, Cantabria and Andalucía, each have one plant.


“Each year that passes that mercury is not eliminated from chemical production means dozens of tons of mercury will end up in the environment.  That is where this dangerous heavy metal stays for decades, contaminating our marine resources, poisoning people and weakening ecosystems”, states Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe.


Oceana is also pleased that Euro MP David Hammerstein has acknowledged this flagrant violation of European legislation and has taken the case before the European Commission.