MINIERA DI PASQUASIA
mine-enrichment plant (K) / Enna / 1959 - 1992 / 2011
The Pasquasia potash mine was opened in 1959 by Sali Potassici Trinacria, a subsidiary of Edison group, which intended to exploit the large sylvite, carnallite and kainite deposits discovered from 1952 onwards halfway between Enna and Caltanissetta. A first shaft was excavated (Pozzo 3, 310 mt) to reach the closer sylvite and carnallite deposits. An enrichment plant was also established with the aim to obtain potassium chloride (100000 t/y), which was then used by Edison’s subsidiary SINCAT to manufacture chemical fertilizers in the petrochemical plant at Priolo-Gargallo. In 1966 Montedison mining-chemical enterprise was created through the merge of Edison and Montecatini, the latter also active in the regional potash industry – see San Cataldo mine and Campofranco chemical plant. Meanwhile, the sylvite and carnallite deposits at Pasquasia were close to depletion and thus a productive shift towards the far larger kainite veins had to be planned. In 1968 the mine was transferred to a newborn company called ISPEA-Industria Sali Potassici e Affini, shared by Montedison (49%), EMS i.e. Sicilian mining authority (40%) and ENI (11%). The old mining and production facilities were progressively abandoned. Two deep shafts were soon excavated (Pozzo 1, 825 mt and Pozzo 2, 753 mt) and, from 1973, a most modern enrichment plant (230000 t/y of potassium sulphate) was added too. The latter used a kainite enrichment process specifically designed by Montedison, in which besides potassium sulphate also sulphuric acid, sodium chloride, magnesium chloride and magnesium oxide were obtained in smaller quantities.
At the threshold of the 1980s, after the withdrawal of Montedison from the mining sector, the whole Sicilian potash industry was concentrated into a single public-private company called Italkali-Società Italiana Sali Alcalni. In 1980-81 the Pasquasia mine was completely revamped, especially concerning underground activities, leading to a peak of 1.3 millions t of extracted kainite (1987) as well as 246000 t of potassium sulphate (1989). At the time Italkali was the third potash producer worldwide, with sales markets in the Mediterranean region, Japan, China and Brazil. However, such a positive scenario suddenly changed in the course of 1990 due to a dispute raised between Italkali and the regional mining authority (EMS), concerning the pollution of rivers Morello and Salso. This led to a temporary stop of mining activities, which turned into a permanent closure of the whole complex from 27 July 1992 onwards. Several hypotheses have been outlined about this unexpected and even unjustified closure, since the kainite deposit would allowed the continuation of mining activity for further thirty years. The most valid one asserts that the planned reconversion of Pasquasia from potash to magnesium production (still from kainite) was opposed by multinational magnesium industries who, in agreement with national and local politics, have got rid of a key competitor in return for economic advantages in terms of supply contracts. Another version, less realistic but far more discussed, supposes that the forced closure of the mine was a way to allow the secret storage of radioactive waste in its deepest levels, with the involvement of ENEA (former national agency for atomic energy) and even criminal organizations. This story originates from the establishment in 1985 of an experimental laboratory by ENEA to test the effects of heating on the underground rock formations, a preliminary activity to the storage of radioactive waste – which, indeed, has never been proved.
Adamo, S., Ramberti, L. (1979), "L'industria estrattiva del potassio in Italia", in L'industria mineraria, maggio-giugno 1979, pp. 161-170.
Trincheri, G. (2001), Industrie chimiche in Italia dalle origini al 2000, Arvan, Mira.
Gabrieli, P., Trovato, J. (2009), I misteri di Pasquasia, Lancillotto e Ginevra Editori, Leonforte.
Fazio, M. (2013), L'incubo Pasquasia. Veleni e misteri, Bonfirraro Editore, Barrafranca.
A detailed article from 1979 about the potash mining industry in Sicily (in Italian).
PASQUASIA | documentary project by Vincenzo Monaco