LatinNews Daily - 09 June 2022

Click here for printer friendly version
Click here for full report

CHILE: Air pollution triggers state of emergency

On 8 June Chile’s state-owned mining firm Codelco confirmed that it had voluntarily shut down its Ventanas smelter and refinery in Valparaíso province.

Analysis:

The announcement follows the decision by Chile’s environmental regulator (SMA) to order provisional measures for Codelco and AES Andes, a firm which owns a power plant in Ventanas, on 7 June after over 100 residents in Quintero and Puchuncaví municipalities, including many schoolchildren, were hospitalised, suffering headaches, fainting, and vomiting. This has been attributed to air pollution amid reports of high levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere. With a copper smelter, coal-fired generators, cement and chemical plants, the Quintero-Puchuncaví industrial hub has for years been notorious for high levels of pollution, causing it to be dubbed ‘Chile’s Chernobyl’.

  • As well as requesting temporary shutdowns of industrial activity, the authorities have also ordered an investigation and closed schools.
  • An estimated 50,000 people live close to the industrial plants.
  • In August-September 2018, a peak in air pollution in the area affected over 1,700 residents, most of whom were schoolchildren, triggering industrial shutdowns and the suspension of classes. In 2019 the government announced a five-year plan to reduce air pollution in the area by 91%.
  • AES Andes said it was not responsible for the surge in emissions but would follow any recommendations made by the SMA. Codelco said it was also following government recommendations, installing a new temperature sensor and improving ventilation.
  • However, the mayor of Puchuncaví, Marco Morales, accused local firms of lying about the real level of their emissions. The Valparaíso public prosecutor’s office said it would open an investigation into the incident.
  • The case has provoked responses from the national legislature. Senator Francisco Chahuán from right-wing opposition party Renovación Nacional (RN), said he would file a request for an injunction and a criminal complaint against Codelco, forcing it to keep the smelter closed until all health protocols had been completed.
  • In the lower house the left-wing Partido por la Democracia (PPD) said it would demand a review of the environmental operating licenses held by companies operating in the industrial hub.

Looking Ahead: The new government led by President Gabriel Boric promised action to protect the environment during last year’s election campaign, suggesting it will now come under pressure to order a more rigorous clean-up at Quintero-Puchuncaví.

LatinNews
Intelligence Research Ltd.
167-169 Great Portland Street,
5th floor,
London, W1W 5PF - UK
Phone : +44 (0) 203 695 2790
Contact
You may contact us via our online contact form
Copyright © 2022 Intelligence Research Ltd. All rights reserved.