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Of­fi­cials warn of eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter

Cape Breton Post - - CLASSIFIED -

ROME (AP) — An oil spill that fouled a small river in north­ern Italy reached the Po River on Wed­nes­day, with of­fi­cials warn­ing of an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter as they scram­bled to con­tain the sludge be­fore it con­tam­i­nated Italy’s long­est and most im­por­tant river.

Mi­lan re­gional of­fi­cials said the cause was cer­tainly sab­o­tage at a for­mer re­fin­ery turned oil de­pot, since the cis­terns were opened and the oil al­lowed to flow unim­peded into the Lam­bro River near Monza.

The cis­terns “were opened by some­one who was fa­mil­iar with the plant and knew how to op­er­ate them,” said Cinzia Sec­chi, a spokes­woman for the Mi­lan pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

There were vary­ing ac­counts of the amount of oil re­leased: Sec­chi said of­fi­cials now be­lieved 2.5 mil­lion litres (0.66 mil­lion gal­lons) had poured out, down from the ini­tial es­ti­mates of 10 mil­lion litres but sig­nif­i­cantly more than the 600,000 litres re­ported by the ANSA news agency and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists warned that sev­eral wa­ter and bird species were at risk from the spill, since the area is rich in bird and other wildlife. But even af­ter the spill is cleaned up the im­pact will last as the Po river val­ley is the most im­por­tant agri­cul­tural re­gion in Italy, and the Po is used ex­ten­sively for ir­ri­ga­tion, the World Wildlife Fund for Na­ture noted.

The spill be­gan Tues­day and spread south down the Lam­bro to Pi­a­cenza and Cre­mona overnight, de­spite ef­forts to con­tain it. By Wed­nes­day, it had reached the Po, which crosses the coun­try from Pied­mont in the west, across Turin and Fer­rara be­fore emp­ty­ing into the Adri­atic sea.

The 130 kilo­me­tre (80-mile) Lam­bro — a trib­u­tary to the Po that means “clear” in Latin — had been pol­luted by years of in­dus­trial runoff well be­fore the spill.

But Dami­ano di Simine, re­gional pres­i­dent of the Legam­bi­ente en­vi­ron­men­tal group, said the slick had caused even more dam­age to a trib­u­tary that had just re­cently shown signs of re­cov­ery, with fish re­turn­ing.

“The scale of this is dra­matic,” he said in a phone in­ter­view, not­ing that Legam­bi­ente — as well as the re­gional gov­ern­ment — had asked that a state of emer­gency be de­clared to free up fed­eral funds to help con­tain it.

“ We don’t yet know the de­tails, but there is great dam­age to the eco­log­i­cal sys­tem — all the veg­e­ta­tion and fauna,” he said.

Sev­eral oil-cov­ered ducks have al­ready been plucked from the river and taken for treat­ment at a re­gional an­i­mal shel­ter.

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