Germany: Expert on ‘very high’ contamination following floods
Both Germany and Belgium are struggling to clear mountains of waste ranging from washing machines, destroyed furniture, building debris, chemicals and raw sewage in what is proving a nightmare for authorities in both countries. Patrick Hasenkamp, the vice president of the German Association of Local Public Utilities (VKU) as well as the head of the waste management services of the city of Munster told Politico debris had been contaminated in some cases with faeces and toxic chemicals.
He added: “The main issue is the heterogenous mixture of waste.
“We can only separate rough aggregates, such as building rubble or electric equipment.”
The contamination means it was almost impossible to recycle the materials, mean the vast majority of it would need to be incinerated, posing a huge problem because German incinerators already operate at more than 95 percent of capacity.
Angela Merkel has described the situation as “terrifying”
Toys and other detritus on the streets in the town of Stolberg
The disposal may even take a number of years
Mr Hasenkamp said Germany was faced with the disposal of “unimaginable additional amounts of waste” as a result of the flooding, which has claimed the lives of at least 188 people.
He said: “To incinerate all the waste, we would technically need an additional waste incineration plant.
“The disposal may even take a number of years.”
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Angela Merkel and Armin Laschet in the village of Bad Muenstereifel
Speaking last week, Hans-Peter Bleken in Bad Neuenahr, a resident of Rhineland-Palatinate, one of the areas of Germany worst hit by the flooding, said: “The next big problem is going to be the huge piles of household rubbish.
“We have beaten corona but if we now get the bacteria, the rats and more viruses then that will be our problem.”
Also last week, Armin Laschet, the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and the leader of Mrs Merkel’s CDU party, told a news conference: “It won’t be possible to dispose of all the waste locally. We need wider help.”
Cologne, the region’s largest city, issued an extraordinary appeal, via Facebook, for help from members of the public to clear the trash.
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Volunteers and residents start the clean up process at their shops and restaurants
Piles of furniture on the street in Stolberg
The appeal, which included a hotline number for helpers to call, read: “The districts and households affected need urgent support to quickly cope with this task, as our existing infrastructure is already exhausted.”
The high death toll has raised questions around why so many people seemed to have been surprised by the flash flooding, with opposition politicians suggesting the death toll revealed serious failings in Germany’s flood preparedness.
Speaking on July 18 in the town of Adenau in Rhineland-Palatinate, Mrs Merkel said of the situation: “It is terrifying.
“The German language can barely describe the devastation that’s taken place.”
Angela Merkel timeline
Ute Teichert, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Doctors of the Public Health Service in Rhineland-Palatinate, said a fortnight after the floods, the situation was “still frightening” with a danger of epidemics in the affected regions.
Public health was “massively threatened because the infrastructure is not working”, she said.
Belgium, where estimates suggest 1.5million tons of waste was generated over the space of just a few days, is also facing major problems, admitted Jean-Jacques De Paoli, spokesman for local waste management association Intradel.
Similarly, just a “small quantity” of waste in the city of Liege was being sent to recycling facilities, he said.
Piles of rubble collected from the flooded areas in the Belgian town of Trooz
He explained: “We sort what we can and when we can,” but likewise said most of the material was going to landfill or incinerators.
Cedric Slegers of Comet, a Belgian company, said it was crucial to remove debris as rapidly as possible, warning of a risk to public health otherwise as well as “a risk of polluting the environment”.
Didier Hellin, who is the director-general of the public water utility in Namur, one of Belgium’s provinces, warned: “Floods carry sludge, which damages wastewater treatment plants.”
If wastewater was not properly treated, there was a danger of “harming the aquatic environment”, he stressed.
(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)