An environmental emergency is unfolding in Denmark as authorities scramble to halt the slow creep of contaminated soil toward Randers Fjord, a waterway connected to the Baltic Sea. The slippery slope of the toxicity threat – in both literal and figurative senses – has only been further complicated by the contentious debate over who should accept responsibility for the costs of containment and cleanup.
The immediate crisis centers on the site of the now-defunct Nordic Waste facility just south of the Jutland municipality of Randers. For years, the plant operated as a reprocessing center for hazardous materials.
Since its recent closure, a 75-meter tall, 3 million cubic meter mound of contaminated debris has remained, containing heavy metals and oil byproducts leached from industrial waste.
How Did the Landslide Start?
This unstable mountain of toxic soil has begun ominously sliding downhill at a pace of 40 centimeters per hour.
Its gradual movement carries it toward a stream drained by the Randers Fjord, presenting the potential for mass pollution of these interconnected waterways spreading across hundreds of square miles along Denmark’s northwest coast – a critical habitat for myriad species and foundation for productive fishing and tourism industries.
The precipitous landslide began without warning on December 10. Barely over a week later, Nordic Waste informed Randers officials that its efforts to halt slippage had failed completely. Appeals to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency met insistence that, despite the plant’s closure, liability rests with Nordic as the legal property owner.
However, with the clock ticking on a deepening environmental crisis, Randers Municipality felt compelled to take emergency action alone.
Working intensely through the short winter days, crews have successfully rerouted the threatened stream by constructing diversion pipes allowing it to bypass the unstable soil mass.
But the mound continues its relentless creep forward, heavy rainfall and snowmelt draining through the contaminated mix. Teams work round the clock to extension pipe infrastructure while excavating holding ponds capture increasing volumes of toxic effluent.