What was thought to be a health emergency is now being considered an environmental problem after a barge overturned in the Gulf of Nicoya.
The barge overturned and dumped 180 tons of ammonium nitrate into the water about 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Emergency officials are being criticized because there was more than a 12-hour wait before action took place to notify individuals who might suffer from the spill.
Fuerza Pública officers began making the rounds of Nicoya Peninsula beaches and those at Puntarenas Centro about 3 a.m., they said.
Police officers visited most of the hotels and other commercial establishments and maintained a presence on the beaches. There also were officers on boats notifying those on land via bullhorns.
The chemical, which is an ingredient for chemical fertilizer, is soluble in water and disperses quickly. Emergency officials issued a red alert early Sunday and then reduced the alert after there appeared to be no health danger. Just a few dead fish were found, they said.
However, the presence of so much plant food in the water might cause a red tide if the algae responses to the dumping, officials said. That might create toxins that are poisonous to water dwellers.
Residents were told Sunday that they could eat fish that already was in the marketplace. Fishing is being restricted in the northern gulf through Wednesday as a safeguard, officials said.
The chemical can cause skin damage if individuals are exposed to higher concentrations of it.
The national emergency commission is having a number of tests performed. The affected area ran down the peninsula coast from Playa Pájaros north of Paquera to Playa Tambor. Also affected was the area from Caldera to Puntarenas Centro.
The merchants who were counting on the weekend tourist trade said that many of their potential customers left after hearing about the spill.
Fertica Costa Rica, part of the international Grupo Fertica, has a fertilizer production plant in Puntarenas Centro not far from the Hospital Monseñor Sanabria. The plant has its own canal that gives access to the gulf, according to the firm’s Web site.
The owner of the barge and its destination was not made clear by officials, although the vessel was ordered towed and probably can be salvaged. The barge is believed to have overturned due to high seas that had been predicted.