Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chilean authorities outraged over new leak at Los Pelambres mine

Over 300,000 Liters Of Toxic Liquid Spilled In Latest Accident

(Nov. 1, 2007) Chilean authorities expressed outrage Wednesday when informed of a Friday-night toxic leak at a tailings dam in Region IV’s Los Pelambres Mine. That leak, which lasted five hours before mine officials notified authorities, was disclosed to the press Tuesday evening.

Los Pelambres is 60 percent owned by Chile’s powerful Luksic family and administered by Antofagasta Minerals, the mining arm of the family’s economic empire. (ST, Aug. 23) This is the second time since August that the plant has been responsible for a toxic spill.

“This most recent spill happened during a 40 minute time span at about 4 a.m. As soon as we received word of the accident, we immediately went out to the scene to investigate what happened. Still, we were not able to make it out to the mine until about 11 a.m,” Marcelo Gamboa, the head of Region IV’s Environmental Authority (COREMA), told the Santiago Times.
Radio Universidad de Chile reported that toxic residue flowed from the facility at a rate of 128 liters per second, resulting in a spill of more than 300,000 liters in the surrounding area. Officials believe that the waste traveled some two kilometers before entering the nearby Cuncumén River and its tributaries. A faulty pump, they say, was the source of the accident.

Radio Universidad de Chile also quoted Los Pelambres mine officials, who said the liquid contained 1,500 milligrams of sulfate and 0.2 milligrams of molybdenum per liter - quantities that are highly toxic for local flora and fauna.


This latest spill follows allegations that the mine spewed toxic water into the Cuncumén River in early August. According to mine officials, one of Los Pelambre’s major valves ruptured on August 3, allowing some 5,000 cubic meters of water to leak from the plant to the area surrounding it.

While company officials claim that the leak was not toxic, CONAMA suspects otherwise. CONAMA officials detected abnormally high amount of pollutants, including sulfur, in the Cuncumén River shortly after the accident happened.

“There was a deliberate attempt on part of the mine’s employees to not inform local governing bodies. This meant that samples of the surrounding area were taken too late to have confirmed the spill,” local Dep. Renán Fuentealba (DC) told reporters at the time. He went on to state that the pollution could potentially affect the nearby Choapa Valley’s agricultural production and that dozens of dead fish had already turned up in the river.

Here is the full article.

Photo Credit: Edward Burtynsky, an artist who explores landscapes transformed by industry. Here is his webpage: Manfactured Landscapes.