Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Farmers quiz government officials over toxic spills from the Los Pelambres Mine owned by the Luksic Group

Fish kills like the one pictured above are typical of mine spills, particularly those that contain cyanide. A sizable mine spill in the Patagonia region could wipe out an entire river eco-system in a matter of hours.

The Region IV Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA) recently penalized Los Pelambres mine with a fine of US$100,000 for its two most recent toxic spills into the Cuncumén River. The spills, which occurred Oct. 26 and Aug. 3, resulted in 5,307,000 liters of water showing higher than normal levels of sulfates and molybdenum, mining waste matter that is toxic to the region’s flora and fauna (ST, Nov. 14).

“I am calling for all activities at this mine to be suspended while officials independent investigation into its faults,” Muñoz said. “The Region IV branch of the Agriculture Ministry is absolutely in agreement with this…these spills could have a serious effect on agriculture, which is important for such communities as Salamanca, Illapel, and Los Vidrios. … Large fines have already been handed out. But, the truth is that fines do not really hurt big business owners. What we need is to have this mine closed...the damage has already been done.”

“Our job as the Agriculture Ministry is not to fine mines,” Rojas said. “But, when the problem becomes more frequent—and, naturally when it affects local agriculture—then it is something that worries us more.”

The recent spills are not the first time that Los Pelambres — a copper mine belonging to Antofagasta Minerals, the mining branch of Chile’s powerful Luksic group — has showed disregard for the local environment and culture. The mine's US$530 million tailings dam project raised controversy in 2006 when the company failed to report the negative impact it would have on surrounding archaeological sites (ST Dec. 25).

Here is the full article.