Green groups demand Swiss industry waste clean up

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Environment groups called Thursday on pharmaceutical giant Novartis and other chemical firms to pay for the clean-up of toxic waste that they had dumped in northern Switzerland.

"The chemical and pharmaceutical industry of Basel dumped in the 1950s and 1960s about 40,000 tonnes of chemical products, some of which were highly toxic," said Juerg Wiedemann, a Green Party parliamentarian, during a press conference with environmental lobby Greenpeace.

Novartis, Syngenta and Ciba "knew that the chemical waste ... would pose problems one day," he claimed.

Fourteen dumping sites are around Muttenz, a village in the Basel region, as well as in border towns in Germany and France.

Wiedemann claimed that as many as 40 toxic elements are found today in drinking water used by 200,000 residents of the area, due to the waste discharged in the region.

"It is only through the extraction of chemical products .. that we found a definitive and clean solution," he said, adding that those responsible for the waste should foot the fees of the clean-up, which are estimated to reach up to 1.5 billion francs (1.1 billion euros).

Greenpeace also published a list of toxic chemicals included in the waste.

"There are between 5,000 and 7,000 pollutants per dump, it's a toxic mix that no one can manage," said Matthias Wuethrich from the green lobby group.

But Syngenta said the list had "nothing to do with with the waste."

"The information contained in the lists indicates all the products made between 1945 and 1960 by Basel's chemical industry. These lists have therefore nothing to do with the content of the waste," said the agri-food company in a statement.

BASF, which owns CIBA, also noted that it was impossible to "draw conclusions from this list on the content of the waste and who is responsible."

Novartis meanwhile said accused Greenpeace of mounting a "dishonest" campaign.

The three companies had said early May that they would spend 40 million euros over two years to clean up two waste sites in bordering France.

© 2010 AFP

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