What is happening in Zaldibar: a huge public health crisis in the heart of the Basque Country

During this weekend, almost 50,000 people were confined to their homes at the government's recommendation to close the windows, go out as little as possible and not do sports outdoors. And no, we are not talking about the Chinese city of Wuhan, nor about any country in conflict: we are talking about the Duranguesado and Bajo Deba regions, in the heart of the Basque Country.

What seemed like a regrettable accident has become, in just ten days, a human tragedy, an ecological disaster and a huge public health problem that has radically altered the lives of a dozen population centers and has forced the suspension of such activities. everyday like the Eibar - Real Sociedad match. What's going on in Zaldibar?

This is how a catastrophe is born

Today in the afternoon the search was resumed already equipped with the relevant equipment.
Gaur arratsaldean behar den bezela hornituta bilatzen jarraitu dugu. pic.twitter.com/gTUdSzJfOO

- UVR Ertzaintza (@UvrErtzaintza) February 7, 2020

On February 6, a landfill in Zaldibar, near Eibar and Ermua, collapsed. Half a million tons of non-urban waste (industrial slag, iron and steel waste, discarded construction materials, etc ...) spilled onto the AP-8, the highway that connects Bilbao and San Sebastián, burying two landfill workers, Alberto Sololuze and Joaquín Beltrán.

More than 10 days later, it is unclear what caused the collapse. But everyone agrees that it cannot be classified as a surprise: the latest environmental inspection report already cataloged the state of the landfill as "bad", culminating a deterioration process that has been sinking the degree of compliance with the environmental authorization conditions year after year.

As the evidence and cross-accusations piled up, the first rescue attempts were swift. The same Thursday, firefighters and ertzainas went into the landfill guided by dogs and came to mark the place where the bodies could be. While digging by hand, at one in the morning on Friday, the alarm went off: in that area, during the last three years, some 9,780 tons of asbestos had been deposited.

Asbestos, used primarily as a building material, is a powerful carcinogen if inhaled. And with the landfill destroyed, the rescue had to be suspended. Once the search resumed, and with adequate protection measures, the instability of the terrain has made everything go slower than expected. On Tuesday the 11th, justice opens proceedings to investigate the collapse and possible causes.

Furans and dioxins

Three days later, on Friday the 14th, the tests detect dioxins and furans in the air. We were talking about proportions between 40 and 50 times higher than normal. The origin is in the landfill, specifically in the fires due to the combustion of methane in the upper part. Immediately, residents of nearby municipalities (such as Zaldibar, Ermua or Eibar) are recommended to close the windows of their houses and do not play sports.

On Sunday the 16th, the heads of the Public Health Laboratory of the Basque Department of Health and the Air Service of the Department of the Environment assured that this exposure to furans and dioxins does not affect health "in the short or long term." As Iñaki Berraondo, Deputy Minister of Health of the Basque Government, explained, "a short-term exposure should not cause effects on health, except in very high concentrations, a situation in which we are not. It acts more as a protective measure than for avoiding an immediate health effect. "

But the concern was already installed: on Saturday the 15th, more than 5,000 people gathered in Zaldibar to protest against the management of the crisis. The week before, Deputy Minister Elena Moreno had admitted that the administration knew that "things were not done well" and "was about to start a sanctioning file", but that no one had ever imagined that outcome.

According to the authorities, late on the 16th the machines managed to reach the top of the landfill and make a track on the waste material. Attempts are being made to put out the fires and the search for the bodies has been intensified. However, the crisis is still ongoing and citizen concern continues to grow while doubts continue as to whether to obtain a "clear and blunt explanation.

Images | Surveillance and Rescue Unit of the Ertzaintza.

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