MAC: Mines and Communities

Argentina-metal Huasi: An Open Wound In Abra Pampa

Published by MAC on 2006-08-15


Metal Huasi: An Open Wound in Abra Pampa

Jujuy, Argentina.

August 2006

By Luis Manuel Claps

 10 10Metals foundry Metal Huasi operated in Abra Pampa, in the Jujuy Puna (in the extreme north of Argentina, some 10,000 feet above sea level) throughout the 1950's, 60's and 70's. Lead and other metals from the Pirquitas mine, in the department of Rinconada, were processed there to be sent via train to Bolivia. The foundry was initially built outside of town, but as the years went on, the city of Abra Pampa grew to surround the metals foundry with a densely populated neighborhood. One of the reasons for the growth of the city was the abrupt closure of the Pirquitas mine in 1986, generating an extremely serious social crisis. "Many of the people went to Abra Pampa, and there was no way to house them all. The city grew without controls. They were difficult times," remembers Father Quique.

Some of the residents with whom we talked remember when Metal Huasi was still in production. Some of them worked in the plant. "The smoke and the gases emitted caused so many sicknesses. I destroyed my health by working at Metal Huasi," a resident told me. When it closed, there were neither works to remediate and restore the areas of the plant ,nor treatment of the contaminants accumulated.

The plant appears to be a huge waste dump, an open wound. The wastes that accumulated in the main tailings pile and in other parts of the grounds contain high concentrations of lead and other heavy metals. The strong, constant winds of the zone, blow the metal dust throughout the streets, houses and bodies of the habitants. This process of contamination has been going on for at least ten years. "The pile isn't all," Quique told me, "They say that there are underground deposits of chemicals and toxic wastes buried in other parts of the city; and a school was built directly above a tailings pile... We still don't know what consequences are, it is like a time bomb."

Authorities have promised to solve the environmental, legal and political problem presented by Metal Huasi in Abra Pampa. A press release issued by the Province of Jujuy on February 16, 2006 announced the signing of an Agreement of Collaboration between the national Secretary of Mining and the Engineering department of the University of Jujuy to address the issue. According to the statement, this "pact" began with speeches by the President of the College of Engineering Sergio Aramayo, the Mayor of Abra Pampa Herman Zerpa, the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering Enrique Arnaud, the Director of Mining Martín Sánchez, the Secretary of Regional Integration Hugo Tobchi and the Secretary of Mining of Argentina, Jorge Mayoral.

Jorge Mayoral said in the pact that "the contamination in this part of the Province of Jujuy is very inconvenient." Inconvenient? Sometimes the level of cynicism of even these officials is suprising. Now some six months have passed since the pact was signed and there is no perceivable changes yet. Furthermore, the situation is worsening, as the walls and fences around the abandoned sites are deteriorating and nothing prevents children in Abra Pampa from entering and playing in the site, with its hazards and risks. The plant of Metal Huasi has been poorly closed off. What for some people is a mere "inconvenence" is, for the residents of Abra Pampa, an offence, a wound, and furthermore a direct threat to their health.

Metal Huasi is certainly not the only environmental wound caused by the mining industry in the Jujuy Puna. Some days ago, Provincial representatives Pablo Baca and Luis Armella introduced a request report in order to "initiate corrective measures to the legacy of environmental and health problems caused by mining projects Pan de Azúcar, España and Potosí", located in the Department of Rinconada. (19/06/2006 -

It seems logical that, before promoting the entry of new mining companies into the territory, the first task for national and regional officials linked to the mining sector is to correct (if that is even possible) the disasters that these companies have generated in the past, and help and adequately compensate those directly affected.

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