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Two Tons of Antifreeze Chemical Leak into Rhine

November 29, 1986 GMT

LUDWIGSHAFEN, West Germany (AP) _ The BASF chemical factory accidentally leaked two tons of a toxic antifreeze component into the Rhine River Friday, officials said. It was the seventh major chemical spill into the Rhine in a month.

Officials of both BASF and the Rhineland-Palatinate state Environment Ministry said the chemical would break down quickly and posed no health hazard.

The accident involving ethylene glycol, an oily component used to make antifreeze, was the second in a week at the huge BASF complex in Ludwigshafen, 62 miles south of Frankfurt. On Nov. 21, about two tons of herbicide leaked into the Rhine from the BASF plant.

BASF spokesman Hans-Dieter Gaertner said Friday’s accident apparently occurred when a worker opened a wrong valve and released the chemical into a water drainage system that runs into the Rhine. Local environmental and water protection officials were promptly notified, said the spokesman.

In Mainz, Environment Ministry spokeswoman Marlene Muehe said the chemical was ″a substance that breaks down well biologically, and it would not endanger drinking water taken from the river.″

A spate of chemical spills into the Rhine began Oct. 31 with a herbicide accident at the Swiss Ciba-Geigy plant in Basel.

But the worst occurred Nov. 1 when 30 tons of poisonous herbicides, pesticides and mercury washed into the river as firemen were putting out a fire at a Sandoz chemical plant warehouse in Basel.

That accident killed more than half a million fish and other forms of underwater life and forced many riverside communities to temporarily switch to alternative water supplies.

On Wednesday, almost a ton of methanol poured into the Rhine from a Bayer chemical complex in Leverkusen, West Germany. The day before, a Bayer plant in Krefeld leaked 220 pounds of a toxic disinfectant into the river.

Earlier this week, an oil slick apparently discharged by a passing ship covered parts of the Rhine in West Germany.

Company and government officials have said only the Sandoz leak was expected to pose any public health risk or long-term threat to drinking water sources.

But the accidents have caused a public uproar and bolstered environmentalist pressure for tougher controls on industries.

The 820-mile Rhine begins in the Swiss Alps and flows through West German, French and Dutch territory before emptying into the North Sea.