Spanish police probe into lethal ammonia spill

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PROBE: The Civil Guard investigates an illegal ammonia spill in Guipuzkoa. credit: Guardia Civil

THE Guardia Civil is investigating four people in connection with a lethal ammonia spill in Guipuzkoa.

OPERATION “Ammonio” was launched in May after a “continuous discharge” of the harmful chemical that had “seriously affected fauna” was located at a tributary near the Oria River.

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Four people are being investigated for crimes against natural resources and the environment, after a “large number of fish and other dead animals” were discovered on the banks in the Arkaiz regatta of the river.

In a statement, the the Guardia Civil’s SEPRONA unit said: “During the cleaning process of a hose after the unloading of a truck in the incinerator of the Guipúzkoa Environmental Complex, there was a leak due to the malfunction of components of the installation, which caused the contents of the tank to be dumped into the river.

“Among the various failures, everything indicates that the technicians who directed the operation did not give importance to the spill, not complying with the procedures of the complex itself.”


The spill lasted for four days, and officers from UCOMA (SEPRONA’s Central Operational Environment Unit) estimate the concentration of ammonia to be 25 per cent.

“One of the security measures to know the pH of the water that the incinerator itself evacuates was not activated, so the presence of ammonia was not detected, whose concentration is estimated at 25 per cent.”


The Technical Unit of the National Central Office of SEPRONA is preparing and coordinating reports to determine the level of environmental damage, and believe there could have been more spills.

“Ammonia is an essential element to reduce the pollution of the emissions caused by an incinerator, but at the same time it is highly toxic, so when a possible spill or spill is detected, authorised managers are those who must be in charge of cleaning the spaces affected,” said SEPRONA.

“The amount detected was 220 times higher than the established limit, which caused the death of all the fish that were in the regatta.”

The physical-chemical quality of the water during a period of time was affected and seriously modified, approximately 2,200,000 litres of water containing ammonia were poured into the river, making it “incompatible with the life of the fauna of the environment, damaging the balance of the natural systems natural”.

Among the fish found dead were eels, (anguilla anguilla), a species with special protection, as well as gobies, minnows, loaches, and macro-invertebrates.

The Guardia Civil said the operation involved essential collaboration with various organisations to clarify the facts, including the Basque Government, the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, GHK Consorcio de Residuos, the Basque Water Agency and various companies.

The findings of the investigation will be passed to a court in San Sebastian.

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