December 19, 2007 / 11:37 PM / 12 years ago

Mexico's biggest clean up to transform refinery site

MEXICO CITY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Mexico’s oil monopoly Pemex is taking on the country’s biggest ever environmental clean-up on land at a former refinery that will be turned into a huge park to mark the 200th independence anniversary from Spain.

Pemex will throw more than $50 million to make a toxic and potentially cancer-threatening site into a park in the north of Mexico City. The former oil refinery operated for almost 60 years until it was closed down in 1991 because of pollution.

Engineers have found residual benzene, diesel and gasoline at depths up to 15 feet (5 meters) in the earth at the 136 acre site (55 hectares) inside the sprawling city, which is home to more than 18 million people.

Various soil and land clean up techniques are being used at the site ahead of the scheduled Sept. 2009 handover to the government, which will then develop its park project ahead of the Sept. 2010 anniversary.

“The aim is to leave the land totally free of pollutants so it does not represent absolutely any environmental risk to health,” Pemex chief Jesus Reyes Heroles said at a presentation of the plan on Wednesday.

Around 250 workers are currently employed in the clean up that so far has involved removing 100,000 cubic meters of earth and will also need the removal of untold quantities of pipeline ducts and old railway tracks.

The government of President Felipe Calderon wants to open a park on the site, which is a third of the size of London’s Hyde Park, with tentative plans for an aquarium and a major reforestation.

“We want it to be another lung for Mexico City,” Reyes Heroles said.

Chapultepec park is the city’s main park. The old refinery site, which has little construction left as Pemex dismantled and rebuilt various parts of it at other installations after it was closed down, will be slightly smaller than Chapultepec. (Reporting by Chris Aspin; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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