All the fish in one of canton Geneva's most beautiful rivers have been killed after a toxic chemical escaped from a water purification station in neighbouring France.
"It's an ecological catastrophe," said Christina Meissner, a spokeswoman for the cantonal environment department. "The Allondon is affected almost yearly by cases of pollution but this is the worst we've ever recorded.
"It completely wipes out all the efforts the authorities in Geneva have undertaken to protect nature."
The Allondon, whose source is in the Pays de Gex region of France, was once voted one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe. Local biologists said they had never before seen so many fish die over such a large stretch of the river.
The canton's environment minister, Robert Cramer, said it was intolerable that the river had been reduced to a biological desert.
The French authorities have not yet identified the cause of the spill or the chemical concerned but the accident is believed to have happened at the Saint-Genis-Pouilly purification plant.
The Geneva authorities have long expressed concern that the water purification stations in the Pays de Gex are too small to cope with the region's rapidly growing population, and that they overflow after heavy rain.
"In addition, the Allondon is too small an outlet for so much used water," said Cramer.
Geneva's long-term solution is to build its own water purification plant which will treat water from the commune of Meyrin and from the Pays de Gex. But this is not scheduled for completion until 2005.
"This type of incident shows that we can't wait that long," said Cramer.
by Roy Probert