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Brazil stops river oil spill far from key city

The oil slick on the Iguacu River was stopped before it reached Iguacu Falls (bottom), according to government officials in Brazil  

July 19, 2000
Web posted at: 4:53 PM EDT (2053 GMT)

CURITIBA, Brazil -- Brazil's largest oil spill in decades has been contained before it reached a major city or the internationally known Iguacu Falls, government officials said Wednesday.

More than one thousand workers used floating barriers and canals to stop the slick on the southern Iguacu River, said Parana state Gov. Jaime Lerner.

About 1.06 million gallons (4 million liters) leaked into the river Sunday from a refinery operated by the state-owned oil company Petrobas. The spill traveled downstream some 24 miles (43 km).

"The preventive actions should be sufficient to stop the slick from arriving in Uniao da Vitoria," Lerner told reporters after flying over the river early Wednesday.

Uniao da Vitoria, a city of 75,000 people 185 miles (300 km) from the refinery, is the nearest place that relies on the Iguacu for drinking water. It is also home to an important hydroelectric dam.

The slick is now around 375 miles (600 km) upriver from Iguacu Falls, the majestic waterfalls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. Officials had said the possibility of the oil arriving to the falls was remote.

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Petrobras said Wednesday that around half of the oil spilled remained within the refinery grounds. Another 91,000 gallons (341,000 liters), or less than 10 percent, had been removed from the river and an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the total had evaporated.

Petrobras said all the oil should be cleaned off the river's surface in 10 days. Four experts from U.S. oil spill specialists Clean Caribbean Cooperation were brought in to advise Petrobras.

But the governor said Petrobras and Civil Defense workers still have a huge amount of clean-up work to do.

"The essential thing now is to clean up all the riverbanks, which will mean an intense amount of work over the next month," Lerner said. "We also have to make sure that Uniao da Vitoria does not have problems with water."

Environmental group Greenpeace said the river will need years to recover. Activists said the river's bird and fish populations were seriously endangered.

Birds and other animals were seriously endangered by the spill, environmentalists said  

The federal and state governments and environmental groups have slammed Petrobras for its second major spill in six months.

Petrobas was fined $28 million for the most recent spill, the maximum amount allowed by law.

The government ended the company's decades-long monopoly on oil exploration last year, which forced Petrobas to become more aggressive. Environmentalists said it made the company become less careful.

"We cannot believe that a company the size of Petrobas, with the responsibility that Petrobas has, is already culpable twice over for two enormous ecological disasters in less than a year," said Jose Sarney Filho, the Brazilian Minister of the Environment.

Sunday's accident, in which oil spewed out of a ruptured pipeline for two hours, was three times bigger than the January spill, in which 345,000 gallons (1.3 million liters) leaked from a refinery into Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay.

Brazil's worst oil accident was recorded in 1974 when 1.6 million gallons (6 million liters) were dumped into Guanabara Bay.

Correspondent Dave Johnson and Reuters contributed to this report.



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