Oil Spill Draws Fire From Group

With a major oil spill apparently under control, environmentalists on Thursday stepped up demands for the government to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

In an open letter, the World Wildlife Fund called on federal oil giant Petrobras to show how it will clean up and monitor the Iguacu River valley in southern Brazil, where more than 1 million gallons of crude oil spewed from a burst refinery pipeline on Sunday.

The group also called on the government to order an outside, independent review of the company’s environmental safeguards.

Barriers Contain Spill

The spill spread down the Iguacu from the Getulio Vargas refinery in Araucaria, some 435 miles southwest of Rio. Environmentalists and Petrobras workers said it was contained by floating barriers above the farming town of Balsa Nova, about 30 miles downstream from the refinery.

Much of the floating oil was diverted through channels into sand pits near the river, where it was sucked into tanker trucks. Petrobras said fewer than 79,000 gallons remained in the river.

The Iguacu runs more than 500 miles through Parana state to postcard-famous Iguacu Falls, near Brazil’s border with Argentina and Paraguay. A spokeswoman for the Parana State Environmental Protection Agency said it was “almost impossible” for the oil to reach the falls.

Late Wednesday, the National Petroleum Agency authorized the refinery to resume using the pipeline.

Fishing Banned

But the environmental impact still is unclear. Some oil-coated birds, animals and fish were found dead, and authorities banned fishing and warned resident of river towns not to drink the water.

The World Wildlife Fund noted that the Iguacu River runs through two important ecosystems of the Atlantic Forest and is home to many rare species of fish because of its isolation by the falls.

“The areas are unique, with a high biodiversity and extremely endangered,” the group said.

On Thursday, some 2,000 temporary workers in boots and gloves patrolled the river bank, picking up oil-soaked debris. Petrobras said its cleanup would take months and would include removing oil-soaked mud and sediment from the river bed and banks.