The Junta de Andalucía has ordered the temporary closure of the two active non-hazardous waste vessels at the Nerva (Huelva) landfill, after verifying that the amount of waste deposited both in them and in the one that was already closed in 2022 exceeds more than 2.86 tons the maximum capacity allowed. The Ministry of Sustainability, Environment and Blue Economy has also agreed to fine the company Diseño de Soluciones Medioambientales (DSM), which manages the landfill, with 1,686,824 euros, which it accuses of having “falsified the data required by the applicable regulations ” in an “intentional” manner, generating “a risk to the health and integrity of the landfill workers” due to the “possible lack of security” due to the “insufficiency of guarantees of stability of the containment dam” of the Huelva sump taking into account the total accumulated volume, in accordance with the disciplinary procedure to which this newspaper has had access.
With this decision —against which there is an appeal—, which requires the cessation of the activity of vessels II and III, only vessels IV and V in which hazardous waste is deposited would remain active, after the closure was executed in 2022 of vase I, ordered in 2005. The three redoubts that are closed account for 71% of the surface of the chasm. The future of this landfill, which continues to receive some 100,000 tons of waste from abroad and from Spain, is uncertain, since pressure from the residents of Nerva and environmental groups has grown in recent years, demanding its final closure.
It was precisely the closure of vessel I that was the trigger that has made it possible to verify that the management company has allegedly been hiding the amount of waste stored in the landfill. DSM requested in 2019 a modification of the integrated environmental authorization, the permit necessary for the exploitation of the abyss and that establishes a series of conditions, including its total capacity. The project presented occupied the entirety of that glass and the administration, in July 2021, asked him to correct it. In October of that year, the alternative proposal that contemplated the use of vessels II and III was submitted. In May 2022, the Department of Waste and Soil Quality of the Ministry of Sustainability required a study to rule out that the authorized capacity had been exceeded and to verify if, in fact, what was intended was an expansion of the landfill.
As the information offered by DSN did not seem sufficient, the administration carried out its own inspection through a specialized company that, by applying the gravimetric method, a geophysical technique to determine variations in the density of the subsoil, concluded that the total sum of the waste contained in basins I, II and III was 10,253,665 tons, 2,869,554 tons more than the 7,384,111 tons established in the integrated environmental authorization and which contemplates the sum of the masses of the three basins and the total screed . Those almost three tons represent, according to the report, an excess of 39% with respect to the planned capacity.
The measurements by Geognosia, the company that conducted the study, are very clear. Vessel I, which was already closed when the data was collected in September 2022, had a mass of 1,643,516 tons, when its maximum expected capacity was 771,810; the maximum capacity for II and III, together with the final screed, was set at 3.87 tons, according to the integrated environmental authorization, but the gravimetric report found that it amounted to 8.6 tons.
“Will to confuse or deceive”
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In view of these data, the Board considers that the differences between what is permitted and what is actually stored “are considerable” and that they cannot be attributed to the method used by the operator to determine the mass that is deposited because “the entity dedicated to professionally, waste management is assumed to have sufficient capacity and technical knowledge to carry out this control”. This experience in management is what leads the administration to infer that DSM “allegedly falsified the data required by the applicable regulations” and that it had “the will to confuse or deceive about the mass deposited and about the state of the installation in relation to what is authorized”.
The Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Law establishes that when the amounts accumulated in non-hazardous waste vessels are increased by more than 25,000 tons, a substantial modification of the integrated environmental authorization must be requested, a situation that in the Nerva landfill is far exceeded. The management company, however, never required a modification in those terms, despite the fact that more than 2.8 tons exceed the limit of the planned capacity by almost 115 times, warns the Board.
The Ministry of Sustainability also warns about the risk of accidents that may arise from oversizing the storage of resources, taking into account the current fragility of the containment dam that separates the non-hazardous waste vessels, verified in the last inspection carried out by the administration, in which gullies and seepage were observed in the terrain. Along with this situation, it also draws attention to the lack of a study of the stability of the containment element adequate to the mass and density actually detected, which must be added to the fact that those carried out with reference to the parameters collected in the environmental authorization were already “very adjusted to the assumable minimums”. All of these conditions lead to warning the Board that “the safety implications are unknown and show a derived risk for the integrity of workers and for the environment”.
For all these reasons, the Board has ordered the temporary closure of vessels II and III and to minimize the work until the stability studies and risk assessment appropriate to the real conditions have been obtained, which it has entrusted to DSN, as a prior step for the definitive closure. with all the guarantees. In addition to this plan, the company must also draw up another for monitoring and tracking the behavior of the landfill dam. Both must be assessed with the Ministry of Sustainability. The Administration has also imposed a fine of 1.67 million euros on DSN, as responsible for an alleged very serious violation of Law 7/2007 on Integrated Management of Environmental Quality.
The sanction and the disclosure of the alleged irregularities committed by the company that manages the landfill complicate its intention to extend the life of the landfill. The integrated environmental authorization for the Nerva waste treatment facilities was granted on April 30, 2008 in favor of Befesa Gestión de Recursos Industriales, SL Subsequently, various modifications were made to the initial authorization and also the change of ownership, which on May 5, 2017 it passed into the hands of DSM.
The Nerva landfill, less than a kilometer from the Huelva municipality of 5,100 inhabitants, has been tormenting its neighbors for 25 years due to bad odors and the risk of environmental contamination. A year ago the controversy left the perimeter of the town when the bulk transfer of 18,800 tons of shot from Montenegro came to light, which was finally aborted by the Government of Spain. The new Andalusian circular economy law has shielded the landfill from being the container for hazardous waste that comes from abroad or from the rest of Spanish territory. Only community generated ones are supported.
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