MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Toxic Tailings Spill In Carén Estuary: Codelco Contaminates Irrigation And Drinking Water Supplies

Published by MAC on 2006-07-10
Source: El Mercurio,

Toxic Tailings Spill in Carén Estuary: CODELCO Contaminates Irrigation and Drinking Water Supplies

By Uziel Gómez -- El Mercurio, Santiago de Chile

10th July 2006

A spill from Codelco Chile´s El Teniente tailings reserviour in the Carén estuary has contaminated the waters used for irrigation and human and animal consumption in the community of Alhué, in the Region Metropolitana in Chile. "In all of the water supply sources, we have taken samples which contain elevated levels of sulfate and molybdenum, exceeding the limits for irrigation and drinking water," concluded the Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG) in their report.

The surface waters of the estuary which animals utilize for drinking also show levels of sulfates and molybdenum "unacceptable for drinking." In an investigation accompanied by dramatic photos of the destruction in flora and fauna throughout 17 kilometers, the SAG concluded that the contamination "covers practically the entire breadth of the estuary of Carén."

The ten thousand liters that escaped in the dam failure caused the immediate deaths of innumerable fish, many cows, the fleeing of birds and damages to plants. Many trees and bushes alongside the waterways have been cut down in the cleanup operations.

The SAG pointed out that the contaminated site had been trumpeted by Codelco for the richness of its native flora and fauna, establishing a "wetlands" with installations for observation of species and an ecological education project. There were also fields of grapes and fruit trees, barely from 200 meters of the estuary, which according to some of the farmer, are damaged by the contaminated waters.

National legislator Gonzalo Uriarte, who has been following the problem, said that the contamination is "extremely serious" because it affects the Alhué river basin and the health of the people living there. The member of parliament accused the public officials in charge of overseeing contamination that has accumulated in the past twenty years as having been "absent."


Rosa Donoso:

"The estuary has been contaminated for more than 20 years, but what happened now is horrible. All the fish and animals who drank the water died. We were always suspicious of our drinking water because the well is 50 meters from the estuary. It tastes metallic."

Fernando Zúñiga:

"An entire week passed without warning of what had happened, our animals drinking poisoned water. The spill killed ten of my animals. At least 200 people depend upon their vineyards and fruit trees for exportation. This type of disaster must never happen again."

M. Isabel Catejo

"We smell the odor of copper every day. I live thirty meters from the estuary, and it is unbearable. There has been ecological damage and damage to the health of people. Since 1998 there have been cases of hepatitis. Codelco hasn't done anything for us."

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