On Nov. 11, 1986 authorities from the Water Safety Administration in Basel, Switzerland, said a second accidental leak of toxic chemicals had spilled into the Rhine River the day before the well-publicized Sandoz accident. The authorities said Ciba-Geigy, which operates a large plant in Toms River, NJ, had sent 88 gallons of the weedkiller Atrazin into the Rhine river from a treatment plant on Oct. 31, a day before a fire at the Sandoz plant leaked 30 tons of toxins. A spokesman for Ciba-Geigy said the leak happened when staff accidently released chemicals into the river before they had been treated. According to the spokesman, Atrazin is not a powerful poison and the concentration was low--one-fifth of the concentration at which fish would have been killed.
Four countries took defensive action since in November, 1986, when a fire at a chemical company in Basel, Switzerland, spilled a huge discharge of toxic chemicals, including 8 tons of mercury, into the Rhine River; a government environmental agency at Basel said it was 10 to 30 tons of chemicals.
Spokesmen in France, West Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, through which the Rhine flows, shut down all plants processing Rhine water for drinking, banned fishing in the river and closed sluices and locks to stop polluted water from contaminating estuaries, streams and underground water courses.
According to the Basel environmental agency, water used to put out a fire at a riverside storage building at
the Sandoz chemical company carried 10 to 30 tons of toxic substances into the river. At least 34 different
chemicals were washed into the Rhine, some of which may have fused into new compounds as a result of
the high temperatures created by the fire. The chemicals include dyes, insecticides and mercury.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: water; water pollution; drinking water; fishing; water safety administration; switzerland; chemicals; rhine; poison; leaks; sandoz; ciba-geigy; atrazine; pesticides; mercury; france; west germany; netherlands; switzerland; spills;