500 tonnes of toxic fuel spilled into the Loire estuary in Brittany

Accidental spillage at Donges refinery in south-east Brittany will cost more than €10 million to clean up.

Accidental spillage at Donges refinery in south-east Brittany will cost more than €10 million to clean up.

Alarms were raised in Brittany on March 17th 2008 when some 500 tonnes of highly toxic fuel were accidentally spilled into the Loire estuary.

The accident occurred as the fuel was being pumped into oil tanker “Ocean Quest” at the Donges refinery near St Nazaire in the Loire-Atlantique province.

According to the Loire-Atlantique prefecture, the spilled fuel was “very toxic, and must be cleaned up with the greatest precaution.”

Donges refinery, which belongs to the French oil company Total, called in a team from Brest-based Centre for Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (CEDRE) to advise on toxic fuel clean up procedures.

About 300 people were mobilised to work on the clean up, which counted with the support of a marine pollution control vessel from the French navy.

Floating barriers were set up around the affected area trying to prevent the spill reaching nearby Cordemais thermal power station, the salt-producing tidal marshes at Guérande, and the Percée du Carnet nature reserve.

Despite the measures, the oil slick reached the Bilho nature and bird reserve on the banks of the river Loire.

The French Minister of the Environment, Jean-Louis Borloo, visited the affected area and met with local politicians to explain what the French administration was doing to control the spillage and clean the estuary.

Brittany's devolved government Région Bretagne does not have executive powers on coastal and environmental protection, which are reserved matters for the French administration.

Four days after the oil spill was announced the Loire-Atlantique prefecture declared the main clean up work to be almost complete.

French oil group Total apologised for the accident and promised to pay the clean up bill, which they estimated at about €10 million.

The oil group had initially estimated the oil spill at 400 tonnes but later on accepted that at least 500 tonnes had been spilled into the Loire estuary.

The accident at Donges brought back bad memories for many in Britanny, where far too often oil spills have caused environmental disasters.

Only two years ago, an accident involving two liquefied petroleum gas tankers at Donges provoked another small-scale oil spillage.

Donges is France's second largest refinery with 8 million tonnes of fuel output per year and provides an important number of jobs in the local area.

The refinery is located at the mouth of the Loire estuary, which is classed as a Natura 2000 protected natural habitat by the European Union.

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