It is one year since that fateful February 6. It was 4:00 p.m. and the collapse of the Zaldibar dump, managed by the Verter Recycling company. An avalanche of waste and earth buried Alberto Sololuze and Joaquín Beltrán, two workers who were in the area of the landfill scale at the time and who were engulfed by the mountain of waste. After months of agonizing search, it was last August when the remains of Alberto, one of the deceased workers, were found, while the device continues to locate the second worker, Joaquín, without results to date.
The bewilderment and concern were palpable at the scene. The first rescue attempts were carried out that same Thursday by firefighters and ertzainas equipped with shovels. The following day, the Basque Government suspended the search for the two employees due to the presence of asbestos in the rubble. In addition, the origin of several fires in the upper part of the landfill complicated the scenario. Furthermore, when on February 9 Ekologistak Martxan warned of the possibility that among the industrial waste stored in the landfill there could be lindane remains, material considered highly toxic.
Due to the instability of the terrain, up to three occasions the search work had to be suspended. That same week, residents of Zaldibar and neighboring towns such as Ermua and Eibar created the Zaldibar Argitu platform and began different mobilizations to denounce what happened. And the fact is that the discovery that waste containing asbestos had been stored in the landfill generated further confusion and confusion.
While the search work, waste analysis, air and water quality continued, a judicial process also began to clarify the causes and responsibilities of the events. The detachment opened an environmental, health and political crisis in the CAV, in full electoral pre-campaign. On February 11, the Durango Court opened proceedings to investigate the collapse and two days later opened a sanctioning file against the company that owns the dump, Verter Recycling, since the analyzes detected dioxins and furans in the air in proportions much higher than the normal and caused by fires in the landfill.
Six days after the tragic event, Lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu met with the families of the disappeared and visited the landfill. The opposition criticized the Jeltzale leader for not having gone to the scene of the tragedy earlier. Faced with this attack, he made it clear that his intention was to “demarcate any time of presence that only involves a staging.”
Demonstrations and protests were increasing. Thousands of people took to the streets to demand responsibility and clarification of what happened. On February 18, Iñaki Arriola, at that time Minister of the Environment of the Basque Executive, assured that “The Verter Recycling company is fully responsible for the stability of the landfill”. That same month, the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the town councils of Eibar and Ermua also appeared as a private prosecution in the judicial process for the collapse of the landfill.
With the state of alarm decreed on March 14, the search work in the landfill runs the risk of slowing down, but they were finally included in the category of essential and priority. New clues were discovered on April 5 when Alberto Sololuze’s car was located. The search efforts continue, but without news from the workers. To delve into what happened, the Department of the Environment entrusted three experts with an expert report in order to determine the causes of the landslide. Later, he also requested an audit from a British consultancy.
News about the operation was scarce, and discouragement was emerging more and more among the workers’ families and friends. In May, his relatives asked that the search not stop. Summer progresses, as does the judicial process and on July 21 the Ertzaintza detained three high-ranking officials from Verter Recycling, owner of the Zaldibar dump. Two days later, The judge indicts those responsible for the landfill for reckless homicide, releasing them provisionally.
On August 16, at a depth of 23 meters, where rescue teams had been working hard for more than six months, they found a bone remnant. The next day, they located more remains and various personal items such as a camera, a watch strap, sunglasses and a lock. Finally, on August 19, DNA tests confirmed that the human remains found in the landfill belonged to Alberto Sololuze.
Framed in the judicial process, the Zaldibar Argitu platform and the Charter of Social Rights of Euskal Herria at the beginning of October they made their appearance as a popular accusation official in the trial for the collapse of the landfill. To meet the costs of the trial, they launched a popular fundraising campaign.
With the fundamental objective of finding Joaquín Beltrán, the search operation begins a new phase on October 15 when it reaches one of the priority areas. In mid-November, the search ends without results and the work is extended to two other areas. With the arrival of the new year, on January 20, the Basque Government assigned Verter Recycling responsibility for the damage caused due to the collapse and gives the landfill management company a period of ten business days, extendable for another five, to present a project to repair the environmental damage caused.
Two days later, through a public statement, Verter Recycling would reject being the “sole” person responsible for the damages and assures that “responsibilities of other intervening agents” concur. On January 29, the Court of Instruction number 1 of Durango initiated the case against the Verter Recycling company and three of those responsible for an alleged environmental crime caused as a result of the collapse of the landfill.
Storm. The landfill, a private landfill managed by the Verter Recycling company, collapsed on February 6, 2020 and unleashed a commotion in the Basque Country. In addition to an environmental crisis, it caused a political storm, with controversy between the different political formations in the days prior to the Basque elections (which were later suspended due to the pandemic), and also afterwards.
Esperanza. After months of unsuccessful search, last August the body of Alberto Sololuze, one of the two workers who disappeared under the rubble, was found. Since then, the search operation has been working to locate Joaquín Beltrán.
Research. It has been a year of periodic citizen mobilizations demanding responsibility for the collapse, which is the subject of a judicial investigation and for which three managers of the management company appear as investigated. The European Commission has also been interested in what happened.