Public health fears loom as floods ebb

As the floodwaters that have devastated central Europe begin receding, the threat of an environmental and public health disaster loomed yesterday to compound the problems of emergency workers.

Czech officials said that a chemical plant, which released a cloud of poisonous chlorine gas when it was flooded last week, was still a threat. And across central Europe, the waters have disabled sewerage plants and left rotting animal carcasses, food and other waste that could allow disease to spread.

Germany's environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, was due to visit the stricken Spolana plant in Neratovice amid fears that it may be leaching dioxin and other pollutants into the Elbe, which flows across the Czech border into Germany.

Last week's leak of chlorine is said to have been too small to threaten health but doubts remain on safety standards there. A Czech police spokesman told Pravo newspaper: "Dangerous materials were there and it appears that they were not properly secured and there were problems with how they were registered."

The Spolana plant is only the most dramatic example of a more widespread threat caused by the disaster. With such a large industrial area flooded, chemical spills have become a common problem.

The rivers Elbe and Vltava, which broke their banks across the Czech Republic and Germany, are lined with factories dating back to the communist- era, when environmental standards were rarely a priority.

Wittenburg, in eastern Germany, hosts several chemical plants and, while officials say dangerous pollutants have been cleared, environmental groups fear a spill or water contamination. Nor are the fears limited to former eastern bloc areas. In Lauenburg, 25 miles from the port of Hamburg, two chemical plants have been evacuated as northern Germany braces itself for the flood.

The Czech government said 20,000 clean-up workers had been offered vaccinations against hepatitis. But officials in Prague and Berlin played down fears of epidemics such as hepatitis A and dysentery.

The historic city of Magdeburg escaped the worst when waters peaked there overnight but did not breach the sandbag defences built by volunteers. But in Lower Saxony, residents were still being moved and, in one area, water levels rose by 60cm (2ft) in 24 hours.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test