Towards the containment of hazardous waste at the Stocamine site?

Towards the containment of hazardous waste at the Stocamine site?

Violet Field inPlanetJan 6, 2021 4 min read9 views

Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili announced that a decision would be taken by the end of January

Minister Barbara Pompili visited the Stocamine site for more than two hours. - SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP
  • The visit of the Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili was expected on the Stocamine site, in Alsace.
  • It had to decide on the fate of this former potash mine where, at a depth of 550 meters, 42,000 tonnes of hazardous non-radioactive industrial waste have been stored.
  • Barbara Pompili has not decided on the future of the site but has promised an answer by the end of January. It leans more towards the containment of this waste.

What to do with hazardous industrial waste buried on the Stocamine site, a former potash mine in Wittelsheim, in the Haut-Rhin? A response from the Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili, visiting the site on Tuesday, was expected.

She did not decide. “The decision will be made by the end of the month. I believe that this affair has lasted too long, ”declared the State representative, after two hours of wandering at the bottom of the mine. Among the various possible scenarios for the 42,000 tonnes of non-radioactive hazardous industrial waste stored at a depth of 550 meters, the Minister considers that there are still "two major options open": "to confine" them or "to remove some more" from here in 2025.

Even before meeting local elected officials and chairing a public meeting in the evening on the subject, Barbara Pompili clearly showed her preference for the first option. “When I get out of this mine, so far, I haven't seen a lot of arguments yet that makes me think that we should destock,” she said, saying that her “major concerns "Were" the preservation of the water table in Alsace (…) and the safety of the people who work below ".

Mercury, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, asbestos ...

Opened in 1999 on the site of a potash mine for an initially planned duration of thirty years, Stocamine was to collect 320,000 tonnes of non-radioactive hazardous industrial waste (class 1 and 0). But an underground fire in 2002 put a stop to the activity of the site originally designed to allow reversible storage.

Since then, there has been constant controversy over the fate of some 42,000 tonnes of waste still buried, some of which contain mercury, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, or asbestos.

"A hammer blow" for opponents of the site

The Minister for the Ecological Transition was greeted on her arrival in Wittelsheim by several dozen opponents of Stocamine gathered behind banners proclaiming "Pompili, do not bury the problem" or "Stocamine, a water-rich in cyanide". "We are firm: the only solution is to get everything out," said Yann Flory, spokesperson for the "Déstocamine" collective, considering that the minister's remarks in favor of definitive containment of the waste, even before the public meeting, were "a blow of the club".

The destocking of waste has been demanded for years by environmental defense associations and local elected officials, but the State has continued to procrastinate. In 2012, he had made the choice of the permanent landfill, while ordering the removal of waste containing mercury, but since partial destocking has also been studied.

“The most dangerous for the tablecloth, containing mercury, have already been removed up to 95% between 2015 and 2017. There are still some dangerous products but most of the bags contain products which are not soluble, therefore not dangerous for the water table ”, estimated the minister in an interview with the Latest News from Alsace.

By more than 500 meters deep, in kilometers of dusty galleries, some miners continue to secure the places and to dig in order to eventually be able to make final, by means of concrete, the burial of the waste. Some waste storage cavities are already sealed, while the ceilings of other cavities have collapsed on the waste.

"The work and experiments that are being carried out in the mine deserve our attention because what is being done is technically quite incredible", added Barbara Pompili, herself a miner's granddaughter.