Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Scientists create confusion over Benzene legal limit

Campo environmental row

The Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)(Spanish council for scientific research), Spain’s leading scientific research body, has moved to “clarify” previous statements on the level of Benzene emissions from the Campo de Gibraltar industrial complex.

Twelve days ago, the CSIC had warned in a report that Benzene levels in the area of Puente Mayorga occasionally exceeded legal limits, depending on weather conditions.
It had recommended closer analysis of Benzene levels, a review of the installations in question and an epidemiological study to assess the impact – if any – on the health of residents in the area.

But last Friday, the CSIC issued an unequivocal “clarification” stating that emissions of this highly toxic substance complied fully with current legislation.
There was no breach of the rules when it came to Benzene levels in the Campo de Gibraltar area, it said.

The statement has shocked environmental campaigners in the Campo de Gibraltar, who had believed the CSIC’s initial findings vindicated their persistent warnings about pollution levels in the area.

Last year, the Bay Bucket Brigade had used a primitive, yet scientifically proved sampling method to show extremely high levels of Benzene in the immediate area of Puente Mayorga.

Local members of the Bucket Brigade met last night to assess the latest statement from the Spanish research body and decide on a course of action.

“This is a complete about turn by the CSIC,” said Janet Howitt, local spokeswoman for the group.

Among other concerns, they raised questions about the CSIC’s interpretation of the European Union directive, that sets out the limits on Benzene emissions.

What IS the Limit?

On May 12, the CSIC issued a report that, amongst other issues, pointed to Benzene levels in the area of Puente Mayorga next to the Cepsa refinery that appeared to exceed the legal limit, which it noted was currently fixed at 5 mg/m3 [micrograms per cubic metre].

“Preliminary analyses in Puente Mayorga indicate that the limit of 5 mg/m3 is clearly surpassed in the Cepsa neighbourhood under easterly wind conditions, with maximum values having been detected that exceed this level by a factor of five to six times over an eight-hour average,” it said at the time.

But on Friday, the CSIC appeared to contradict this by arguing that the current legal limit for Benzene emissions was in fact 10 mg/m3.

According to its interpretation of EU law, as transposed into Spanish law, the 5mg/m3 limit it referred to on May 12 does not come into force until 2010.

The CSIC added that existing legislation also allowed for a 5mg/m3 “margin of tolerance”.

In simple terms, the current limit was not 5mg/m3 as maintained on May 12, but rather 10 mg/m3, if the “margin of tolerance” was also taken into consideration.

Using those parameters, the benzene emission recorded by the CSIC in Puente Mayorga complied with the law.

Despite repeated efforts by the Chronicle, no one from the CSIC was available yesterday to comment on the clarifications to the May 12 report.

Zero Tolerance

Environmental campaigners believe that the Spanish body may have misinterpreted the EU directive in question.

According to them, the directive sets out a programme that aims to achieve zero Benzene emissions by 2010.

Whatever the correct interpretation of the European legislation, one thing remains clear about Benzene: it is a highly toxic substance that is known to cause cancer.

According to the EU directive, “…there is no identifiable threshold below which there is no risk to human health.”

In other words, whatever the wrangling over micrograms and emission levels, the fact is that exposure to Benzene – at any level – is potentially dangerous.

It must be stressed, however, that the data on Benzene emissions in the CSIC report refers to specific locations in Puente Mayorga close to the refinery.

In other urban areas in the Campo de Gibraltar where samples were taken – including Los Barrios and La Linea – levels of Benzene were negligible.

Related Articles:

Bucket Brigade challenge CEPSA reply

Scientific study reveals high levels of toxic substances


Related links:

Bay Bucket Brigade Press Release - 19 May 2005

13 May 2005 - CSIC report confirms high levels of pollutants in the Bay of Gibraltar

18 May 2005 - IU express concern in Andalusian Parliament

What is the Bay Bucket Brigade?

Jan 2005 - Bay Bucket Brigade hits 2500!

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