MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Santiago Del Estero: Demonstrators Blockade Highway Because Of Mine Pollution In Río Hondo River

Published by MAC on 2007-02-14

ARGENTINA

Santiago del Estero: Demonstrators Blockade Highway Because of Mine Pollution in Río Hondo River

14th February 2007

http://www.clarin.com

Residents of Santiago del Estero province, Argentina, today blockaded transit on the National Route 9, near the border of the neighboring province of Tucumán, demanding an end to pollution affecting the waters that empty into the Río Hondo river reservoir. The protest was set up by surprise, a day earlier than had been announced, and police from both provinces and hundreds of vehicles and local authorities were caught in the blockade.

The demonstrators, among them neighbours of Río Hondo and environmental groups from the province, demanded solutions to the severe contamination which the reservoir has suffered. They complained of a lack of resolution on the part of the national Secretary of Environment, although a petition had been delivered last December regarding the impact of industrial wastes on the reservoir and the rivers Dulce and Salí.

The Public Ombudsperson of the province of Santiago del Estero, Darío Alarcón, revealed some days earlier that a technical report of the National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) determined that the waters of the Río Hondo dam, its tributaries, and rivers in some parts of Tucumán contain heavy metals above normal levels. According to the report, traces of selenium, arsenic, lead, mercury, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum, copper, silver, nickel and magnesium, among other elements, have been detected.

The Federation of Non Governmental Organizations of Tucumán, which is supporting the demands of the Santiagueños, attributes the presence of these metals to the mining activities of the Bajo La Alumbrera open pit copper/gold mine. This multinational mining company is carrying out operations in neighboring Catamarca province, but the minerals extracted are transported, by pipeline, to Tucumán, where an initial treatment is made before transporting them finally by train to a shipping port in the province of Santa Fe.

Confirmation That Mine Has Contaminated Water Sources in the North
By Julio Rodríguez, Santiago del Estero, Argentina, 8 February 2007
http://www.clarin.com

Studies carried out in waters of dammed portions of the river Río Hondo have provided evidence that the basin of the Salí - Dulce rivers is contaminated by wastes emitted by the Bajo La Alumbrera mine.

"Studies carried out by the National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) and the Federation of Non Governmental Environmental Organizations of Tucuman provience are a call for attention. The findings of contamination, in this case, of sources of drinking water, confirms previous studies carried out in the reservoir of the Río Hondo river and in lake Mar Chiquita," said the Public Ombudsperson of Santiago del Estero, Darío Alarcón to Clarin newspaper. The official has filed legal complaints about the process of contamination of the river basin and the Río Hondo reservoir. Now he is filing complaints against the mining company and other Tucumán companies in Federal courts.

A recent report by the company responsible for the hydroelectric plant of Las Termas of Río Hondo "demonstrates the increasing nature of the contamination of the basin, in its higher, lower and middle reaches, showing growing evidence of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and other elements," added the official.

At the same time, Raúl Mentz, director of Provincial Relations of Minera Alumbrera, explained to the Clarín that the mineral ore concentrate which is transported by a mineral pipeline "consists of 28% copper, .0025% gold, .0006% silver, 28% iron pyrite, 32% sulfur, 2% aluminum, 8% silica, and some 2% which we call remains or traces. There is no cobalt nor strontium like we are accused." Mentz admits that wastewater effluents are discharged into the DP2 chanell in Tucumán, but that "they do not enter into the Salí-Dulce basin, but yes, they reach the reservoir of the river Río Hondo," although in levels that are acceptable or normal for non-toxic minerals.

The multinational company Xstrata is carrying out the mining operations in this largest and most important mine in Argentina, and has been under question by environmentalist organizations for some time.

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