A park in Carnide, Lisbon, used by the authorities as a deposit for hundreds of seized vehicles has been described by the Portuguese Association of Public Health Doctors as an “open-air dump” that presents “clear risks to public health.”
In October this year Benavente Court ordered the State to pay €117,000 to a car stand after giving back 56 vehicles that had been seized during court proceedings.
The vehicles were returned in a “completely degraded state”, after being left “in the middle of grass that was about a metre high” between July 2008 and August 2010, and had “rats’ nests in the engines”.
Four years later it seems little has changed. The Vale do Forno park, which covers a few hectares and is enclosed by a wall, is still home to hundreds of vehicles deposited there by the PSP police, many of which in an advanced state of decomposition, surrounded by iron skeletons and wild vegetation.
“In the end it is an open-air dump. It is the core of an unhealthy environment where insects and rodents proliferate, representing clear risks to public health, as they are responsible for the transmission of diseases and can even cause death”, said Mário Jorge Santos, president of the Portuguese Association of Public Health Doctors.
Mr. Santos also addressed the problem of oil, fuel and battery acid spilling onto the ground, where pipes can clearly be seen; an indication that there is running water close to the ground’s surface.
“Those liquids could mix with the water flows, which could be used for human consumption or for irrigation. With the contamination of land and allotments people can ingest products that are contaminated with heavy metals and others. It is a situation that deserves looking into”, he added.
Environmental watchdog Quercus shares those concerns and warns of an environmental risk.
“For years these vehicles have been out in the rain, degraded and rodent-infested, which leads oils, acids and other liquids to infiltrate the ground and create soil contamination. Oil is a dangerous pollutant, which makes decontaminating the ground difficult”, said Rui Berkemeier, head of Quercus.
Carnide Parish Mayor Paulo Quaresma says that Vale do Forno, which is located on one of the main entries to the city, “doesn’t dignify the city or the parish” and added that they are in close proximity to the area that could be contaminated.
In a written letter sent to Lusa, the Ministry for Home Affairs (MAI) said that four existing parks in Lisbon serve to take in vehicles that have been removed from public thoroughfares and not to take in and preserve vehicles apprehended on court order.”
MAI has declined to take responsibility for the conditions at Vale do Forno.
“The council owns the afore-mentioned spaces and it is the council’s responsibility to maintain them. It is the PSP’s responsibility to protect and survey the spaces as the goods deposited within them”, MAI said.
The government’s position is in stark contrast with that of Carnide’s environmental councillor, Sá Fernandes, who retorted: “It is not the grass that spills the oil. It is not the council that needs to keep and look after the cars, but whoever puts them there. And with the whole area covered, with cars on top of each other, how is any maintenance supposed to be done? The problem with that park is the cars and not the rodents.”