Farming town braces for oil spill

July 19, 2000
BALSA NOVA, Brazil (AP) - Parents ordered children away from the river on Wednesday and ranchers penned up their cattle, as this farming community readied for invasion. The enemy: a massive oil spill, drifting straight toward town.

Associated Press

By MARCELO BALLVE

July 19, 2000

BALSA NOVA, Brazil (AP) - Parents ordered children away from the river on Wednesday and ranchers penned up their cattle, as this farming community readied for invasion. The enemy: a massive oil spill, drifting straight toward town.

1 million gallons of crude oil spilled near Curitiba, Brazil now threaten water supplies for Unaio de Vitoria downstream, a town of 75,000.
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A mile (about 2 kilometers) upstream, dozens of workers with shovels and mechanical backhoes raced to dig channels at a curve in the Iguacu River, the most important in Parana state. They hoped to divert the black scum into sandpits or check it at floating barriers before it got any further.

In the worst oil spill in a quarter century, more than 1 million gallons (4 million liters) of crude oil spewed from a burst pipeline Sunday at the Getulio Vargas refinery in Araucaria, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) southwest of Rio.

The state-run oil company Petrobras said it is reasonably certain that the oil spill will be contained before it reaches Iguacu Falls, a major tourist attraction about 400 miles downstream from the spill.
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Most of it spilled into a tributary of the Iguacu River, which runs through the state to the world-famous Iguacu Falls, near Brazil's border with Argentina and Paraguay. While many worried about possible damage to the falls, residents of this corn- and cattle-raising tow, 30 miles (50 kilometers) below the refinery, had other concerns.

"I feel like the river is my children's future," said secretary Lizabete Alves. "The oil harms the water and the nature that belongs to them."

Four barriers strung across the river had failed to check the spill. At the fifth, just above the town, the flow paused on Wednesday.

"The stain has been contained at Balsa Nova," Eliana Fachim, spokeswoman for the Parana State Environmental Protection Agency, said in the capital of Curitiba. "There are still bits of oil floating in the river, but now it's question of collecting all the small pieces."

All but around 80,000 gallons (300,000 liters) of oil had been removed from the river, cleanup crews said. Two other barriers were strung protectively downstream, but oil workers admitted they weren't going to get it all.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, known as Ibama, on Wednesday banned fishing anywhere in the Iguacu River and its tributaries until further notice.

"Obviously there is a lot of worry," said Balsa Nova's town manager Eloi Alceu. "But even more worrying is that we won't know for a long time what the long-term effects are."

Environmentalists said the full extent of damage was still unknown. The region is home to more than 50 species of birds and 30 types of fish, and egrets and water-loving capybaras - the world's largest rodent, the size of a hog - were hit hard.

Volunteers scrambled to save and clean off oil-sodden herons that stumbled along the riverbanks.

Workers in boots and carrying burlap sacks patrolled the riverbank picking up oil-covered driftwood and trash, one step in a cleanup that will take months. Next, federal oil giant Petrobras will remove oil-impregnated mud and silt from the river bed and banks.

Federal officials said they will fine Petrobras 100 million reals, or dlrs 56 million. Parana state said it will fine the company 50 million reals, or about dlrs 28 million.

Brazil's worst oil disaster was in 1975, when an oil tanker from Iraq dumped nearly 8 million gallons (32 million liters) of crude into Guanabara Bay. The oil washed up on Rio's famous beaches, which were closed for nearly three weeks.

©Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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