Spanish authorities have launched a legal battle against a Swedish mining company, seeking 90 million euros ($98 million) in damages for a major toxic spill that occurred in 1998 near the renowned Doñana National Park.

The civil trial, which commenced on Tuesday, focuses on the Boliden company’s operation of the Los Frailes Aznalcóllar mine.

The disaster resulted in the rupture of a wastewater reservoir, unleashing approximately 1.3 billion gallons of acidic liquid into the Guadiamar River, marking one of Spain’s worst environmental catastrophes.

The extent of the Disaster

While makeshift barriers prevented the toxic liquid and mud from seeping into the neighboring Doñana National Park, a substantial area surrounding the mine became inundated with hazardous sludge containing traces of zinc, iron, and other heavy metals.

Tragically, thousands of fish and birds perished as a consequence of the spill. The southern regional government of Andalusia has taken legal action against Boliden to address the aftermath of this ecological devastation.

Court Proceedings and Witnesses

The ongoing trial will involve testimonies from 12 witnesses and insights from three experts. Court officials have estimated that the proceedings will conclude by July 13.

Notably, a criminal trial held in 2001 by a Seville court ruled that Boliden was not criminally liable for the spill. Nevertheless, the current civil case seeks to address the financial ramifications of the incident.

Boliden’s Defense and Cleanup Efforts

Boliden contends that it had received authorization to expand the size of the reservoir at Aznalcóllar before the catastrophic breach occurred.

Furthermore, the company asserts that it voluntarily undertook an extensive cleanup operation, incurring costs amounting to approximately 80 million euros.

Boliden’s press spokesman, Klas Nilsson, emphasized the company’s commitment to taking responsibility for the incident and restoring the affected area to even better conditions than before the spill.

Nilsson also emphasized that Doñana National Park remained completely unaffected by the accident, underscoring its significance.

Boliden welcomes the opportunity to resolve the financial dispute through the trial, especially considering the passage of 25 years since the incident occurred.

Doñana National Park: An Ecological Treasure Under Threat

A group of Greater flamingos in Doñana National Park

Photo: © Jorge SIERRA / WWF-Spain

Doñana National Park, spanning 75,000 hectares along Spain’s southwestern coast, stands as one of Europe’s most treasured reserves.

The park serves as a crucial sanctuary for millions of migratory birds and endangered species like lynx and imperial eagles.

However, environmentalists and politicians have raised concerns over the park’s future due to plans by right-wing local lawmakers to expand water rights for farmland surrounding the wetlands, amid Spain’s enduring drought.

These plans have sparked worries about the park’s ecological integrity and sustainability.

Potential Reopening of the Mine

Although the Los Frailes Aznalcóllar mine was closed in 2001, recent developments indicate that a Mexican group has expressed interest in reopening the mine.

This prospect has stirred controversy, considering the history of the catastrophic spill and the potential environmental impact of resuming mining operations in the area.