Flight to nowhere

Published: Tuesday 15 June 1999

Birds in distress more than one in 10 of the aquatic birds in Spain's Donana National Park are suffering from the effects of high levels of heavy metals after a toxic spill at the Los Frailes zinc mine a year ago, said a report. The report by Spain's Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas ( csic ) said 11 per cent of the birds in the area, in southern Spain, had high levels of zinc, lead, cadmium and copper in their blood. In some species, nearly one-third were contaminated.

Just over a year ago, a waste reservoir at a zinc mine some 45 km upstream from Donana burst and spilled millions of tonnes of toxic sludge and acidic water into the Guadiamar river. Hastily constructed dikes stopped the polluted water and mud from entering the confines of Donana, one of Europe's largest national parks. But the waterways around the Park, bore the brunt of the disaster and are still contaminated in some places. csic chairman Cesar Nombela said the heavy metals could have "sub-lethal effects" -- that is, the birds would not die immediately but would have problems with their immune systems and other health problems.

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