The biggest recovery in Europe from a contaminated place: 42,000 tons of tar extracted from a toxic lagoon in Madrid, Spain

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by Esteban Tejedor

Posted on August 4, 2020

The biggest recovery in Europe from a contaminated place: 42,000 tons of tar extracted from a toxic lagoon in Madrid, Spain

With the extracted waste, 60.7 million kilowatts of energy have been obtained through alternative fuel, which is the equivalent of the total energy (thermal and electrical) consumed by 17,416 Spanish households in a year. This alternative in the use of waste, chosen and developed by the Community of Madrid, has also avoided the emission of more than 20,000 tons of CO2, which is equivalent to what 7,361 vehicles emit in a year.

The largest restoration in Europe of a contaminated natural area is facing its decisive stage. The Community of Madrid, in collaboration with the company specialised in comprehensive solutions Tragsa, has already removed 42,346 tons of polluting waste from the toxic lagoon of Arganda del Rey, located in the Southeast Regional Park, and begins definitive work to leave the aquifer ready for the rest of migratory birds, predictably in 2024.

For five years, the operators of the Ministry of Environment, Spatial Planning and Sustainability have extracted by means of submersible pumping more than half of the plate from the raft composed of oil and hydrocarbons that since 1970 a company had been dumping with the consent of the owner of the land. By then, there was no regulation on waste and this space was not classified as a protected farm.

The Community of Madrid acquired in 2009 the land of the Southeast Regional Park -included in the Natura 2000 Network- where the lagoon is located to begin its recovery. "It was pure tar, a gigantic oil well," said those present when they saw the oil lagoon that year. A disaster not only for the ecosystem of the place, but also for the birds that passed by the raft and that received flocks of coots, loons and ducks on their way to southern Europe and Africa. The situation was so dangerous that environmentalists launched an intense protest campaign in 2012 and 2013 to demand the urgent decontamination of the aquifers that they named Madrid's toxic beach.

Between 2014 and 2018, with an investment of 14 million euros, the first phase of extraction of the sticky substance from the main lagoon was completed and now the middle of the second phase has been reached, in which it is expected to absorb another 20,000 tons of oil waste. The challenge is greater, since the residue from the deepest parts of the lagoon is much denser and more viscous and must be removed with mechanical means: excavator shovels, buckets...

The 50,000 cubic meters of polluting material is equivalent to 20 Olympic swimming pools and the 33,000 cubic meters of soil to 390 trailer trucks. After finishing the first three phases of the extraction operation by pumping the tar, there are now two more. It is estimated that another 20,000 tons of waste must be removed and then the contaminated soils must be adapted and the ecological restoration of the place.


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