top of page

31 January 2024

Environmental Disaster after lorry accident: River in Brazil contaminated by toxic barrels

Highly toxic foam has triggered a state of emergency in southern Brazil. The Rio Seco in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina is polluted. A lorry carrying barrels of sulphonic acid crashed, spilling the highly toxic liquid into the river.

A thick, white foam formed on the river. According to the AFP news agency, the river is the main drinking water supply for the city of Joinville. The city's residents have been asked to temporarily stop using the water. 

The Brazilian environmental authorities have since recovered the remaining barrels. 

Sulfonic acid is dangerous to humans and is used in the production of detergents and household cleaners. A large part of the city was without water for an extended period of time as the water treatment plant had to be temporarily shut down.

According to the mayor of Joinville, the acid concentration in the river was checked every 30 minutes and has allegedly improved.

Unfortunately, it is not entirely clear when exactly this catastrophe occurred. We have not found a corresponding article in the English-language media. We are thankful for our readers' input and updates.

Learn more (Articles in German Language)

26 June 2023


Burning oil spills in Kuwait

based on a publication of The Guardian on 11 December 2021

A very special topic that is very close to the heart of the founders of the Blue Building Environmental Organisation, for personal reasons.

As early as 1997, initial conversations were held between the inventor of the Ecorefine Norbert Stegmann and a waste management company based in Kuwait, who were enthusiastic about the technology and functioning of the Ecorefine. Unfortunately, a cooperation never happened...

The ECOREFINE technology is a process for purifying soils contaminated with pollutants or other materials (e.g. mill scale sludge) in ‘on-site operation’. This purpose-built system can be operated both mobile and stationary.

This procedure is founded on vacuum evaporation and enables time-saving and rapid decontamination without the use of any additives.










A short journey into the past:

When Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait at the end of the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, they set fire to more than 600 oil wells in Kuwait. This inflicted significant economic damage on the country's lucrative oil industry.

According to the Encyclopedia, Kuwait has about 9 % of the world's proven oil reserves, and oil revenues account for 95 % of the country's export earnings. The oil well fires posed a serious threat not only to the environment but also to human health in the Persian Gulf region. Also, the geographical and climatic conditions in the Persian Gulf region had a massive impact on the natural ecosystems. The uneven heating of the land and sea surfaces led to local atmospheric inversions during the summer months, which trapped the smoke in the lower atmosphere and occasionally caused plumes to cover the Kuwaiti land surface. Severe sandstorms, driven by strong summer winds, mixed sand and dust with the plumes.




But anyone who thinks that this was 30 years ago, that the burning oil fields have long since been extinguished and that all problems have been solved - is wrong.


The Guardian reports in an article of 11 December 2021 that more than 30 years later, Kuwait is still scarred by the catastrophic damage despite all the promises. Billions earmarked for rehabilitation are still waiting to be spent.


An environmental consultant with the Kuwait Oil Company, Meshari Almutairi, claimed that when he first visited the lake in 2015, he was able to shovel out the bottom to expose a shade of brown as an indicator of the level of pollution. At the top, the soil is darker and more contaminated; at the bottom, it transitions to a beige shade of undamaged soil. As temperatures have risen and the soil has weathered, the mud has now hardened and become impenetrable.


In the northern oil fields of Raudhatain and Umm al-Aish, the source of Kuwait's only two freshwater aquifers, visible crusts of dried-up oil lakes cover the foul ground. According to Almutairi, although windblown sand has covered parts of the oil lakes in the north and southeast, their number has multiplied over the years and the harmful chemicals remain still in the soil today.


“Had Kuwait decided to treat this contamination in 1993 or 1994, it would have been so easy. But after 30 years, you are not dealing with the crude oil that existed at that time,”  he said. “It’s a very big challenge.”


According to KISR, by June 2021, just 2.3 million cubic metres of the contaminated sands - almost 10% - had been successfully removed in a process known as remediation: about 1.7 million cubic metres in the north and 580,000 cubic metres in the southeast, where the Burgan oil fields are located. It is estimated that another 19 million cubic metres need to be cleared.

Some parts of the oil lakes are covered with sand, which complicates the cleaning.



The chemical elements and compounds in smoke from oil wells can be toxic, carcinogenic and otherwise hazardous to human health, and in relatively low concentrations can cause ecological and climatic disruption.

According to Wikipedia, 90% of all fires in Kuwait in 1991 were extinguished with seawater sprayed from strong hoses onto the source of the fire. The extinguishing water was delivered to the dry desert region by converting the oil pipelines that had pumped oil from the wells into the Arabian Gulf before the fire started.




But what happens to the contaminated soil?

Researchers and conservationists are deeply concerned about the dangers it poses to the ecosystem and human health.

Of greatest concern is exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons, a mixture of chemicals found in crude oil.

As the most common environmental pollutant, any introduction of petroleum hydrocarbons into an environment immediately degrades the functionality of the ecosystem. They are already altering soil conditions and causing high levels of plant and animal mortality, and they have also invaded aquifers in northern Kuwait that are used for irrigation, small-scale industry and distilled water.

Director of the Climate and Water Programme and Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, plant life around the contaminated sites has not yet recovered. The exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons has affected plant growth and seed germination. In addition, their soil has been clogged by the oil and prevented from accessing light, water and nutrients.


“It’s a sort of byproduct of slanted priorities. People didn’t really buzz about this until they started to see plant life being impacted and physically seeing decay of the natural landscape,” he said.


According to Green Line, an environmental NGO in Kuwait, the wildlife in the area, which relies on desert vegetation, has noticeably decreased over the years. “We know that this is definitely one of the causes of the decline in wildlife here in Kuwait”, the organisation says.

“Although the ecosystem will someday recover”, says Sara Akbar, a petrochemical engineer and co-founder of Kuwait Energy, “many species and areas are still struggling to stay healthy 30 years later.”
















What impact does this have on people?

And people in Kuwait have also suffered the health consequences. Akbar and a US veteran who was drafted during the Gulf War are among the many who suffered severe lung damage after inhaling the toxins from the smoke.


After the Gulf War, environmental surveys were conducted in the Gulf region to determine possible consequences for neurological behaviour.






The burning of oil wells in Kuwait in 1991 discharged a high volume of potentially toxic pollutants into the air. To determine whether there were health-related complaints associated with having lived and worked there, questionnaires were administered to 1599 soldiers after their return from a 3-month mission in Kuwait. Symptoms occurring before, during, and after the mission were queried. Compared with baseline, symptoms reported more frequently for the Kuwait period were eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, shortness of breath, cough, rashes, and fatigue. Symptoms were associated with reported proximity to oil fires, and their incidence generally decreased after the soldiers left Kuwait. Oil-fire smoke is one of several possible factors that may have contributed to the reporting of symptoms.”


Volatile organic compounds in the blood of persons in Kuwait during the oil fires.




Between March and November of 1991, approximately 9000 workers from 43 different countries battled the burning oil wells in Kuwait. To document the exposure of persons in Kuwait during the oil well fires to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), we obtained samples of blood from 14 U.S. personnel in Kuwait City in May of 1991 (group I) and 40 American firefighters working in the oil fields in October of 1991 (group II). Concentrations of VOCs in group I and group II were compared with those of a random sample of 114 persons in the United States (reference group). The median concentrations of VOCs in group I were equal to or lower than those in the reference group. We found significant differences between the median concentrations of several VOCs in group II and the reference group. Median levels of ethylbenzene were about 10 times higher among group II than among the reference group (0.53 microgram/l vs 0.052 microgram/l). Median levels of benzene, m-/p-xylene, o-xylene, styrene, and toluene among group II were more than double those of the reference group. Although firefighters had higher median concentrations of VOCs than the reference group, those American personnel in Kuwait not involved in fighting the oil fires had concentrations of VOCs comparable to those in the reference group. Blood VOC measurements indicate a significant increase in exposure to VOCs in firefighters, but do not demonstrate this in personnel in Kuwait City.”


Assessment of the effects of atmospheric oil pollution in post war Kuwait.




A prospective study was undertaken to assess and monitor the effects of oil pollution in soldiers exposed in Kuwait in 1991 after Op Granby. One hundred and twenty five soldiers were monitored over a five month period by measurement of Forced Expiratory Volume (in one second) (FEV1) and Forced Vital Capacity (FVC). Although no demonstrable changes were observed, this study has gone some way to filling the gap in research in this environmentally sensitive field.”


Environmental surveys conducted in the Gulf region following the Gulf War to identify possible neurobehavioral consequences.




During the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi army set Kuwait oil wells on fire. Wells and some oil refineries were burned, resulting in Kuwait and the surrounding Gulf region being exposed to toxic gases. The oil fires reached their peak in February 1991. On March 7, the fires in some fields were still burning at peak strength. Sulfur dioxide, particulates, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides were emitted into the atmosphere. All of these substances can cause adverse health effects, which vary according to concentration and duration of exposure. A survey conducted in Kuwait clinics and emergency rooms showed an increase in upper respiratory irritation consistent with environmental air sampling results, indicating occasional high levels of particulates. Patient visits related to gastrointestinal illness, heart disease, psychiatric illness, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and bronchiectasis increased during the period following the burning of the oil wells. There was no documented evidence of an increase in visits for acute upper and lower respiratory infections or asthma. Public health workers must recognize the high priority of collecting long-term health data and developing public health systems to assess those data.”


Copyright 1997 Academic Press.

Managing respiratory effects of air pollution.



Background: Exposure to air pollution (both indoor and outdoor) has many potential adverse effects on human health.




This article looks at the adverse respiratory health effects of air pollution and gives some guidance about management of exposure in susceptible individuals.



Motor vehicle and industrial emissions are the primary contributors to outdoor air pollution in Australia. High levels of ozone and other pollutants can cause respiratory symptoms in susceptible individuals. Air quality advisory systems exist in most states. Clinicians can incorporate the health effects of air pollution, and awareness of advisory systems in the education of their susceptible patients and their carers. Asthma and chronic airways disease management plans should include provision for possible exposure to high pollution events and steps that can be taken to reduce exposure.”



Is Gulf War Syndrome really a mystery?




Since the end of the 1991 Gulf War about 20,000 United States veterans and similar proportions of troops from other allied contingents have been affected by a variety of symptoms which have collectively become known as 'Gulf War Syndrome'. Similar symptoms have been reported in Iraqi civilians including children. Despite extensive investigations no agreement has been reached on whether there is an underlying cause or causes. In this article, the principal features of the illness are summarised and some of the proposed causes discussed. It is proposed that the common cause is the toxic smoke from incomplete combustion of oil from burning wells, and this hypothesis is related to the known toxicology of two likely combustion products, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide. The effect of this proposal on possible investigations and treatment is considered.”



The Gulf War Syndrome twenty years on




However, as GWS affects approximately a quarter of subjects deployed, it is not very likely that all these symptoms are caused by a psychotraumatic reaction. Many veterans suffering from GWS have themselves rejected the diagnosis of PTSD, arguing that they do not suffer repetition nightmares. What the veterans rightly tell us here is that the notions of stress and trauma cannot strictly be superimposed. A subject may have been intensely stressed without ever establishing traumatic flashbacks and likewise; a psychological trauma can be experienced without stress and without fear but in a moment of terror. This clarification is in line with the first criterion of the DSM-IV-TR which necessarily integrates the objective and subjective dimensions as determinants of PTSD. Yet, scientific studies relating to GWS are struggling to establish opposition or continuity links between the objective external exposure (smoke from petrol wells, impoverished uranium, biological agents, chemicals) and the share of inner emotion albeit reactive and characterised by a subjective stress. There were no lack of stress factors for the troops deployed: repeated alerts of chemical attacks, hostility of the environment with its sandstorms and venomous animals, climatic conditions making long hours of backup and static observation difficult, collecting bodies, lack of knowledge of the precise geography of their movements and uncertainty of the duration of the conflict. The military anti-nuclear-bacteriological-chemical uniform admittedly provided protective confinement, shutting out the hostile world from which the threat would come but, at the same time, this isolation increases the fear of a hypothetical risk whilst the internal perceptions are increased and can open the way to future somatisations. In a context like this, the somatic manifestations of anxiety (palpitations, sweating, paresthesia…) are willingly associated with somatised functional disorders to which can also be assigned over-interpretations of bodily feelings according to a hypochondriacal mechanism. The selective attention to somatic perceptions in the absence of mentalisations, the request for reassurance reiterated and the excessive use of the treatment system will be diagnostic indices of these symptoms caused by the stress. Rather than toxic exposure to such and such a substance, the non-specific syndrome called "Gulf War Syndrome" is the result of exposure to the eponymous operational theatre. But if the psychological and psychosomatic suffering occurring in veterans is immutable throughout history, the expression of these difficulties has specificities according to the past cultural, political and scientific context. In the example of GWS, the diffusion of the fear of a pathology resulting from chemical weapons has promoted this phenomenon.


In the end, biochemical and biological weapons have not been used on a large scale but the mediatisation of this possibility has led to a deleterious… To spare the bother of a group psychological reflection, the scientific and political authorities chose to investigate the implication of environmental factors in the genesis of the disorder. At individual as well as social level, rather than accept a psychogenic origin, a common defence mechanism is to assign the suffering to an external cause.


With the perspective of preventing the risk of diffusion of other unexplained syndromes, which could occur following future armed conflicts, new epidemiological diagnostic models must be defined. The media also has considerable responsibility for the diffusion of epidemic psychological reactions but at the same time, they can inform the population about certain individual or group psychopathological mechanisms.


Conclusion: The GWS exists: it is not an "imaginary illness" but a serious public health issue which has led to tens of thousands of complaints and swallowed up millions of dollars. To reply to human suffering, a new nosographic entity can spread through society taking the epidemic expression of a somatised disorder via identification, imitation and suggestion mechanisms. This possibility questions not only mental health but also the sociology and politics. It is necessary to inform the leaders and the general population of the possibility of this type of mass reaction, which can take the shape of a highly contagious complex functional syndrome.”

Ölseen in Kuwait mir regionalen Partnern

Norbert Stegmann, Founder of the Blue Building Environmental Organisation and Inventor

of the Ecorefine, in conversations in Kuwait with local partners in 1997

There is no more time to waste!

Become a member of the Blue Building Environmental Organisation now, and support their projects financially.


For more information on the Ecorefine, please click below.

There is no more time to waste!

Become a member of the Blue Building Environmental Organisation now, and support their projects financially.


For more information on the Ecorefine, please click below.

16 November 2022


“BP’s latest dirty secret? Oil terminal has been polluting Red Sea and coral reef for decades“


While world leaders are currently arguing about climate damage or global warming from CO2 emissions at COP27 in Egypt, a real climate disaster is taking place not far from the event:


An investigation, the results of which are available to The Telegraph, has revealed that just 65 miles west of the COP27 summit, an oil terminal is illegally dumping large quantities of contaminated water into the Red Sea - and is believed to have been doing so for decades under the joint management of British energy giant BP and its partner, the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC).

Learn more:

The BBC and The Guardian reports:


“Cornwall: ‘Unbearable’ stench of sewage on beauty spot beach”


At the end of October, a video was shot in Trevaunance Bay near St Agnes showing a slurry of polluted water. A local lifeguard said: “The water was grey and foamy and smelled like sewage”. South West Water (SWW) said that a storm overflow was ‘momentarily’ triggered and that other factors were also responsible.


As ‘The Guardian’ reported in early November 2022, ministers admitted that the government does not know how many beaches in England have been closed this year due to sewage pollution.


Learn more:

20 August 2022


“Fire brigade retrieves almost 160 tonnes of dead fish from Oder and Ner”.


According to an article in the Tagesspiegel of 20 August 2022, the Polish fire brigade says it has so far recovered almost 160 tonnes of dead fish from the Oder and a smaller river. The mass fish kill in the Oder has deeply shaken Germany. Countless fish, mussels, snails and other aquatic organisms died as a result of the environmental disaster. According to a report by the WWF, it is now known that toxins led to the disaster.


Learn more (Article in German Language):

Status: 14.08.2023, 11:38 am


Fish deaths in the Oder: Are further environmental disasters looming?


Countless fish died in the Oder in the summer of 2022 - bream, roach, carp and zander. The entire ecosystem suffers as a result and the causes are far from being eliminated. Are further environmental disasters imminent?


Germany's only wetland national park is also in danger. Experts believe that high salinity, low water levels, high temperatures and the toxin Prymnesium parvum, a type of algae, were the cause of the fish mortality.


Is another mass die-off possible at any time?

A year later, the river is still characterised by excessive salt levels. So far there have been no new mass die-offs, but whether this will continue is questionable.


Lots of rain, which swells the rivers, and lower temperatures could mean that there is a lower likelihood of a severe algal bloom.


However, experts still see risks for the coming years if heat and low water levels provide good conditions for mass proliferation of the toxic chrysophyta (golden algae).


Golden algae mystery

The salinity values in the Oder continue to reach dangerous levels: on 4 August 2023, for example, an electrical conductivity of 2340 microsiemens per centimetre was measured at the measuring point in Frankfurt (Oder). In 2022, the value had also risen to over 2000. According to a spokesman for the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), this should actually be around 600 to 700.


„Symptoms are being combated, but nothing is being done about the causes,“ continued the institute's spokesperson, even a year after the environmental disaster. Environmental organisations believe that the high salt content is probably due to wastewater from the Polish mining industry.


In the summer of 2022, the Oder became a deadly cocktail for many fish because a still rather mysterious type of algae multiplied and produced more poison. Researchers want to find out at what salt content and under what conditions this algae begins to multiply en masse.


The Lower Oder Valley National Park regularly monitors the development of golden algae in the polder waters. So far, only very low concentrations have been detected. However, the river has been missing an important pillar since the disaster: around 65 per cent of the large mussels died in the summer of 2022. These are responsible for filtering the water and thus for light transmission. The river now appears noticeably cloudy due to suspended matter and algae. A 20-centimetre-thick layer of mussel remains covers the bottom in places.


How are the fish in the river?

After the Oder disaster, it is estimated that more than half of the fish that used to live in the river have disappeared. According to IGB estimates, the weight of the fish that died last summer is up to 1,000 tonnes. The ray of hope: the populations can recover and the reproduction conditions are good, according to the experts.


What is being done to protect the Oder?

Poland and Germany have differing opinions on how to deal with the polluted river. The Federal Environment Ministry has been in contact with the neighbouring country since last year, but relations remain tense. There have been workshops, conferences and demands from the German Environment Ministry to its Polish counterparts to significantly reduce salt discharges. The German warning and alarm plan for the Oder has been revised and monitoring of the river improved. According to its own information, Poland is also monitoring the water values more intensively.


The expansion of the Oder remains controversial. On the Polish side, the state water management company is pressing ahead with the expansion and has not been stopped by several court judgements. On 21 July, a district court ordered the public prosecutor's office to investigate the Lubuskie Voivodeship's building inspectorate. The reason for this is that it does not want to enforce a court-ordered construction freeze.


"This is a kind of victory for the NGOs and lawyers against the government's policy," said environmentalist Radoslaw Gawlik from the organisation EKO-Unia in Wrocław. Nevertheless, he has little hope that the work will be stopped.


The commitment of the environmentalists on the Oder and the reporting on it are a thorn in the side of the government in Warsaw. Stanislaw Zaryn, the government plenipotentiary for information security, sees German-led campaigns at work. They serve to "exert pressure that runs counter to the interests of the Republic of Poland", he said in Warsaw. dpa

Learn more (Article in German language)

Atomic Waste
Polluted Oceans

Scientists presume that the patch extends over a very wide area, with estimates ranging from an area the size of the state of Texas to one larger than the continental United States, the exact size is unknown. 

Warm-Cold Water

Different temperature gradients are another driving force for the global current system. From the equator, warm surface water flows northwards. This causes the water to cool down and increases thereby its density. In the higher latitudes, this causes the cold water to sink. Thereby, water masses of 17 million m³ per second are moving. It then flows under the Gulf Stream back into the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where it returns to the surface, is heated and transported westwards. The complete cycle takes about 1,000 years.

Oil Spills

The figures vary, but it is currently estimated that between 6338 and 8569 potentially polluting wrecks rust and leak in our oceans, contaminating the seabed with heavy oil.

Worldwide 6 - 20 Million Tons of Oil on our Seabed


In the event of an oil spill, oil forms a film on the water surface which spreads. In extreme cases, one litre of seeping oil can contaminate 1,000,000 litres of groundwater. Light volatile components of the floating oil film evaporate within a few days, while heavy volatile hydrocarbons remain in the water for months, sink and are only slowly breaking down.


Oil spills, to name only a few: 


- In 1978, the supertanker Amoco Cadiz caused major damage to the coast of Brittany following a shipwreck involving 213,000 tons of leaking oil; after a well explosion in 1979, thousands of tons of crude oil spilled into the Bay of Campeche over a period of several months; 


- In 1989, 42,000 tons of crude oil leaked from the tanker Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound; 


- In 1990, around 43,000 tons of crude oil from the supertanker Mega Borg contaminated the Texas coast. 


- In 1991, devastating oil damage was caused in the Persian Gulf as a result of the Gulf War. 


- One of the most serious oil disasters occurred in 1994 in the northern Russian republic of Komi, when around 80,000 tons of crude oil leaked from a burst pipeline. 


- In 1999, 25,000 tons of heavy fuel oil leaked from the Maltese oil tanker "Erika", which burst in a storm, polluting 450 km of the coast of Brittany. 


- In 2002, the Bahamas-registered tanker "Prestige" crashed off northwest Spain, contaminating the beaches of Galicia with 40,000 tons of heavy oil. 


- In 2006, Israeli air strikes destroyed a power plant near the coast of Lebanon; over 15,000 tons of oil leaked into the sea.


- During the accident in a power plant owned by the company NTEK in Norilsk, Russia, at the end of May 2020, 21,000 tons of diesel had flowed into the Ambarnaja river from a defective tank of a power plant.


Costs for purifying contaminated soil by common cleaning procedures, compared with the Ecorefine:


Procedure, costs €/ t


Thermal Treatment 200 – 1,500

Soil Washing  135 – 350

Biological Treatment  117 – 270


ECOREFINE  32.50 – 87.50

bottom of page