Oceana requests the annulment of the permission for new mercury cells in Catalonia

The Catalan Regional Government has authorised a multinational to incorporate eight new mercury cells in its factory in Martorell contrary to the EU Industrial Emissions Directive

Press Release Date: October 2, 2014

Location: Madrid


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Within the EU, Spain is the country with the most mercury cells installed – an obsolete and highly polluting technology

Oceana has filed an application for administrative review to the Catalan Regional Government against a recently authorised “non-substantial” change to the environmental permit granted to the company Solvin Spain S.L. to add eight mercury cells at its facilities in Martorell (Barcelona). This technique is still being used to manufacture chlorine despite the fact that it generates mercury emissions and that the EU requires the use of existing Best Available Technologies (BAT). In addition, the Regional Government authorized that “non-substantial” change without notice to concerned parties – among which is Oceana – as required by law.

“Spain did not transpose the Industrial Emissions Directive within the required deadline, and trying to take advantage of this delay, Solvin Spain announced its intention to increase the number of mercury cells, despite the fact that from January 2013,  in accordance with that Directive, it is illegal to review permits  allowing to extend production processes using obsolete techniques. The conclusions on BAT for the chlor-alkali industry, approved by the European Commission in December 2013 are clear on this:  the mercury cell technique cannot be considered BAT ‘under any circumstances’. Therefore, the Catalan Regional Government decision is null and void and is contrary to EU Law,” states Ana Barreira, Oceana lawyer and Director of Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medio Ambiente. 

The non-substantial change to the environmental permit authorised by the Regional Government allows the incorporation of mercury cells, a technique banned by the EU because of the harmful effects of mercury on the environment and human health. Furthermore, Oceana was not notified, despite laws on pollution prevention requiere to notify concerned parties, and Oceana is considered as such because previously requested environmental information showing its standing according to the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Aarhus Convention.

“It is unfortunate that the Spanish authorities are so favourable towards mercury cells, even though European legislation requires conversion to membrane technology,” adds Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe. “The mercury used in these facilities ends up in the sea and is not degraded, but accumulate in the food chain until it reaches high levels in large fish such as sharks and tuna.”

Spain is the EU country with the most mercury cells, according to the organisation Euro Chlor, and of the 13 facilities that Solvay has worldwide, only four use mercury cell technology and, of these, two are in Spain. The Industrial Emissions Directive is clear about the binding nature of  BAT conclusions making the authorized extention a violation of the environmental rule of law.