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Chemical Industry in Flix, Tarragona, Spain


The Flix water reservoir, in Tarragona, has been receiving the impacts of the toxic chemical industry for more than a century. More than 700,000 cubic meters of toxic waste containing substances such as mercury, cadmium and other toxic organochlorine components (such as hexachlorobenzene, PCBs or DDT) have been dumped by the Ecros company to the Ebro river from Flix.

Ercros S.A, established in 1897, is considered to be the most polluting chemical industry in the Ebro river basin. The company has been struggling for years to avoid paying to clean up the river. It is the only Spanish company producing PCBs.

In the beginning of the 1980s, due to an increase in the awareness of the dangers of mercury, some environmental groups (Greenpeace), started pointing out the polluting activities of Ercros company.

In 1993, a long Court case began against Ercros for the pollution caused since 1988. That year, the Environmental Department of the Catalan Regional Government decided to evaluate the pollution in the Ebro river and the area next to the Flix water reservoir. Three reports were published in which it was pointed out that it was possible to identify the place where the toxic pollutants had been dumped as well as the type of pollutants. Many dangerous chemicals were found including heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, zinc and other persistent organochlorines. Mercury concentrations were up to 500 times higher than other areas which were not polluted and the total concentration of PCBs were almost 80 times higher than other areas.

In 2003, the company was declared guilty by the Court of Justice for continuously polluting the environment. The Public Prosecutor asked for 6 months of jail-time and disqualification for any other job for those responsible at the company (althought up to date, no one has paid the fine nor stepped into a prison due to legal delays). Unfortunately, no decision was taken on the restoration of the water reservoir nor the river, despite the threat that it represents for relevant Natural Parks nearby and the 65 surrounding towns. This court decision did not hold the company completely responsible for these damages, and today most of the cleaning costs (200 million euros) has still to be paid by public funds.

The local population has never formed a specific platform against the company, perhaps due to or influenced by job blackmailing. Despite that, several national environmental groups (Greenpeace, Ecologistas en Acción) and academics have been denouncing the Flix case over many years.

The Ercros company has in 2017 closed down the factory in Flix (because the use of mercury was forbidden by European regulations). There has been a programme for cleaning up the waste dumped in the river (funded by European money), plagued by corruption. Contamination in the soils belonging to the factory has not been remedied. Research has been done (Pujadas, 2016) estimating the environmental liability of ERCROS at about 400 or 500 million euros. Local resistance is feeble.  A documentary film by Arturo Hortas was launched in 2018. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Chemical Industry in Flix, Tarragona, Spain
State or province:Tarragona
Location of conflict:Flix
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Chemical products
In 1949, After The Construction Of The Flix Hydroelectrical Power Station, It Also Starts Working A Chlorine/Soda Electrolysis Plant With A Mercury Cell.
In 2004, The Manufactured Commodities Were: Chlorine (150.000 Tonnes/Year), Soda, Chlorine Derivatives And Dicalcium Phosphate (740.000 Tonnes/Year).

In The Past, The Company Also Produced Ddt Pesticide As Well As Pcbs And Chlorine Solvents.

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 1949, after the construction of the Flix hydroelectrical power station, a chlorine/soda electrolysis plant with a mercury cell also began operation.

In 2004, the manufactured commodities were: chlorine (150,000 Tonnes/year), soda, chlorine derivatives and dicalcium phosphate (740,000 Tonnes/year).

In the past, the company also produced DDT pesticide as well as PCBs and chlorine solvents.

See Marta Pujadas doctoral thesis at ICTA UAB Barcelona for further information.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:4000
Start of the conflict:1897
Company names or state enterprises:Ercros from Spain
Relevant government actors:Catalan Regional government, Spanish Ministry of Environment
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace, Ecologistes en Acció Catalunya, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas [CSIC]

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Infectious diseases, Deaths, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
The company radically reduced its activities in 2013. It fired more than 75% of its workers.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There was no visible opposition beyond the petition of national environmental organisation and scientific bodies who were concerned by the level of pollution of the Ebro river.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

la Directiva EURATOM 96/29 y del Real decreto 783/2001 –que aprobó el Reglamento sobre protección sanitaria contra las radiaciones ionizantes– en relación a la afectación de los trabajadores que deberán manipular los sedimentos.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Greenpeace Report. Consecuencias Ocultas. El coste de la contaminación

Historia ambiental de la planta electroquímica de Flix. El Principio de Precaución frente al paradigma del crecimiento. Autora: Marta Pujadas Garriga. Revista de historia industrial, ISSN 1132-7200, Nº. 62, 2016, págs. 75-108

Sempere, J., Martínez-Iglesias, M and García, E., (2008) Vertidos tóxicos en el Ebro junto a Flix en Ciencia, conflictos ciudadanos y conflictos socioecológicos. p.9: , movimientos ciudadanos y conflictos socioecológicos.pdf

industrial del agua para las personas, el planeta y sobre los beneficios económicos. El caso de Flix.

Marta Pujadas, 2015, La creació d'un passiu ambiental. Historia de la planta química de Flix al riu Ebre 1897-2013. ICTA.UAB. Barcelona

Contaminación en Flix:

Newspaper article. La contaminación en Flix pone en peligro la fauna del Ebro. EL Pais. 2008:

Newspaper article. La Confederación del Ebro abre expediente a Ercros por el vertido de mercurio. El Pais. 2002:

Briefing. Embalse de Flix: un vertedero de residuos tóxicos:

Newspaper article. El tramo catalán del río Ebro está enfermo. 2012. La Vanguardia:

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Arturo Hortas, Flix - atur o miseria

Meta information

Contributor:Amaranta Herrero
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:72