AUTORA: Helena Bremermann    

CENTRO EDUCATIVO: European International School of Barcelona  


Prestige Nightmare still haunts Spanish government 18 years later
The forgotten successful rock-cleaning method

13th of November 2002, the wind is howling and a storm is coming like an ominous threat of what’s to come: rain, lightning, thunder and the unexpected. Nothing noteworthy for the Costa da Morte (Death Coast) in northwestern Spain, but one event will transform this storm into the disaster of the century, poison spilling into the Atlantic Ocean in the form of fuel oil. The viscous, dark substance covering the clear blue sea with a blanket of darkness. A fortnight after, the ship finally sank 3,500 meters down to the ocean floor, 130 nautical miles off Spain's coast. The culprit, a single-hulled tank steamer called Prestige, bound for Singapore with more than 77,000 tonnes of fuel oil on board. The consequences, Spain and Portugal’s worst ecological disaster to date, 76,000 m3 of oil spilled in total. So, why did the Spanish government ignore the solution scientists presented?

Before the tragedy occurred, the French, Spanish and Portuguese Governments repeatedly refused to allow the vessel to dock in other to avoid pollution of their coasts. This selfishness and lack of foresight is what many experts cite to have been a huge mistake. Furthermore, the decision taken by Spanish authorities to tow the damaged vessel to deeper offshore waters has been described as the reason why the vessel ended up sinking and why such a large area was affected. While the Spanish government was cleared of all criminal responsibility during the 2012 trial, the Spanish people still can’t forget the image of thousands of volunteers on the coasts fishing out oil with gloved hands and all their might. 

After disaster had struck, most of the damage had already been done, 22,000 birds dead and subsequently there were 296.26 and 718.78 million euros in losses for the Spanish fishing and tourism sectors, respectively. It is clear that the damages were grave. It was time for scientists to come to the rescue with a solution to clean the beaches and prevent more consequences. Dr. José Luis Bourdelande from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona did just that, his method of cleaning oil from rocks with a solution of hydrogen peroxide metallic salts and sunlight was not only efficient, but also cheap. This was a revolutionary discovery as the method that was being used at the time, which was manually cleaning the rocks was highly time-consuming and inefficient. He had a particularly vested interest in the project as one of the beaches in his hometown of Llanes was gravely affected by this tragedy. So, why did the Spanish government ignore his solution and refuse to fund it? Whether it was politics or other economic reasons, we may never know, but Bourdelande still feels the frustration and impotence as ardently as he did in 2003. It is however painstakingly clear that the solution was presented to them and that they actively decided to ignore it. 

It is evident that spills of this nature can be devastating to the ecology and the economy and since the Prestige oil spill there have been efforts to prevent this by several means. For example, there has been a lot of technological innovation to the tanker ships in charge of carrying this oil and there have also been several advancements in spill cleanup technology like the one proposed by Dr. Bourdelande. The European Union even introduced a Council Directive concerning dangerous or hazardous substances polluting European waters three decades ago (2006/11/EC) as well as enforcing legislation preventing vessels as old as the Prestige, which was 23 years old at the time, from transporting oil in European waters. These efforts are already a step in the right direction but the real solution lies in prevention of all accidental spills, raising awareness about the dangers of these spills and demanding a proper response from our governments. We must learn from our mistakes. 




AUTORA: Lidia Linuesa Pérez    




The Valdemembra River has gone from being a place where we could bathe and have fun in a channel of polluted waters, so here you will discover where this came from here we will explain how it affects flora and fauna, what are the causes and the most important as it affects people's health and how we can stop this.

The Valdemembra passes through many villages, such as Motilla del Palancar, Quintanar del Rey in Cuenca and Tarazona de la Mancha and Madrigueras in Albacete. The first problems begin almost from the beginning, already in the town of Motilla del Palancar. The channel of the Valdemembra becomes a sewer due to the poor or no depuration of this municipality. Already in the province of Albacete on its last journey, the deterioration is more than evident, a true channel of pollutant waters, where the habitat has been seriously damaged and impossible to come back to life.

At the same time, in the North promenade, cleaning of urban waste will be carried out in the channel, the current concrete channeling will be conditioned and a pedestrian crossing will be constructed by demolition of the concrete wall and the placement of a wooden wall with plates of anchorage in the work of factories of the supply pipes.

The wastewater discharges of the towns alternate sections with higher or lower quality of the Valdemembra waters, the result of the more or less adequate purification carried out by the municipalities, and which is aggravated by the discharges of the agri-food industries that compromise the proper operation of the treatment plants. They aremostly discharged organic high demand for oxygen, which damage the lower biotope of the river and the beings that live there.

Fundamentally due to the pressures exerted by the alteration of the natural base environment, by the extraction of necessary natural resources that alter the natural cycle and by pollution.

The industries of the villages through which the river passes, if not properly discharged, produce pollution. Pollution worsens water conditions, therefore reducing the biodiversity of the ecosystem, and thus fewer species can live, people are also affected. The largest are those with industry, Motilla, Quintanar and Madrigueras.

The main causes of pollution:

There are three routes, the water used by agricultural industries and companies in the area. Then, the diffuse coming from industries, mainly agriculture and livestock. Contaminant discharges affect Valdemembra a lot in much of its route is semi-channeled, it is not a natural river, because it lacks riverbank vegetation that acts as another filter of pollution.

Consequences on people's health:

The introduction of these elements can affect the health of people, from inflammatory processes and allergies, and increases the chance of getting cancer Not many years ago people could bathe, enjoy the river, which is impossible today, and we only see it as a channel that carries dirty water.

How it affects flora and fauna:

The Valdemembra can not neutralize the pollution that comes, and that makes it lose natural conditions, so rich in biodiversity and at the same time so fragile. Normally that affects it in a negative way, generating loss of biodiversity to harden the conditions of the environment and alert the elementary cycles.

The duty of returning to nature the waters used with the minimum purification parameters required by legislation is being breached. A serious environmental damage which is a problem that we are all suffering.

Which are the solutions:

The correct management of all this waste generating, treatment of the wastewater that arrives, avoiding solid waste, discharges ... minimizing, recycling or eliminating to the extent of possible uses and finally facilitating measures to rebuild a living aquatic ecosystem.

The Valdemembra is more a sewer than a river, and that is why we have a fundamental role to change this situation, asking in our town hall to be a river full of life again. After so many years of waiting for solutions without results, on the contrary, the degradation of the Valdemembra river increases every year.

The town of Motilla del Palancar is exposed to flooding caused by two water courses. One of them is the Valdemembra river, with an extensive and longitudinal watershed but with little flow. The other is a small, round watershed without a defined channel that drains into the river through the main street of the town, known as Riato.

The Valdemembra river has been evolving worse and worse due to pollution. Our desire, which is surely shared, is to see the Valdemembra again with the good quality of its waters and banks, as we could not enjoy so many years ago. Until a few decades ago the quality of the waters was more than acceptable, and this attests to a multitude of testimonies of older and not so old people.

To the comments about the unacceptable health of its waters, we must add the state of its margins, with hardly any vegetation and full of trash, drums, rags, plastics and a long etcetera that end up turning it into an unhealthy space and if we focus on diffuse pollution, "that is not seen", we can talk about harmful elements such as nitrates, pesticides and other agrochemical components provided by intensive agriculture that occurs in its margins, in 2016 34 of the 57 pesticides analyzed in the Júcar, of which 22 are currently banned in Spain.