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Controversial waste dump focus of high-level meeting

France's environment minister, Dominique Voynet (pictured left), has been visiting Berne for talks with her Swiss counterpart, Moritz Leuenberger (pictured right). Discussions focused on the Bonfol toxic waste dump in canton Jura.

France's environment minister, Dominique Voynet (pictured), has been visiting Berne for talks with her Swiss counterpart, Moritz Leuenberger. Discussions focused on the Bonfol toxic waste dump in canton Jura.

In January the cantonal authorities in Jura said they planned to close the site, which was filled with 114,000 tonnes of toxic waste between 1961 and 1976. Most of the waste stored was produced by the Basel chemical industry, but the Swiss army and the watch-making industry also added to the stocks.

Canton Jura decided to apply the "polluter pays" principle, enshrined in federal legislation in 1998. Seven Basel companies were asked to meet the costs of cleaning up Bonfol, including Novartis, Ciba, Clariant, and Hoffmann-La-Roche.

The question of how to deal with Bonfol has also caused controversy in France. The site is only a few kilometres from Switzerland's border with France, and both the authorities and media in France have expressed concern that stored chemicals could leak into the water table.

A spokesman for Switzerland's environment ministry said the meeting between Voynet and Leuenberger took the form of an exchange of information. The ministry also said that the Swiss government supported a proposal by canton Jura to invite a French representative onto the liaison group which brings together the cantonal authorities and Basel's chemical companies.

Voynet had planned to include a visit to Bonfol in her Swiss itinerary. However, after assurances from Leuenberger and Phillippe Roch, the director of the federal environment office, she decided to raise the issue in Berne alone.

swissinfo with agencies

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