State-owned company Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, announced the closure of a smelter located in the “Chilean Chernobyl”, one of several contamination areas in the country for which President Gabriel Boric said he felt “shame”.
With the majority vote of its board, the company announced the decision on Friday (17), after ordering the closure of the Ventanas foundry, in the industrial zone of Quintero and Puchuncaví, 140 km west of Santiago.
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The decision comes after a new episode of contamination of the ar last June 9, which affected 115 people, most of them students, forcing schools to close, as has been happening for decades because of pollution in the place.
“We don’t want more sacrifice (environmental) areas. Today there are hundreds of thousands of people living in our country exposed to the severe environmental deterioration that we have caused or consented to and that, as a Chilean, shames me”, said the president.
Located on the east coast of the country, the “Chilean Chernobyl” has been the focus for decades of intoxication crises in the population due to air contamination caused by the mining industry.
Codelco’s decision “was made in light of the recurring cases of intoxication that have occurred in the smelter’s operation,” Boric said.
Workers participate in a demonstration after authorities declared an environmental emergency in the region, pointing to the refinery as a possible cause of contamination along with other companies in the region — Photo: REUTERS
In a statement, Codelco explained that “the complex socio-environmental situation of the industrial hub of Puchuncaví-Quintero has been exposed in recent weeks after different episodes of intoxication”.
“This plant is located within an industrial, mining, energy and port complex, whose environmental conditions have caused incidents that especially affect school and kindergarten boys and girls, as well as elderly adults,” the state-owned company added in the note.
Once the decision was made public, dozens of workers from Fundição Ventanas went to protest in the street and erected incendiary barricades against the measure.
“We are not responsible for the contamination of Quintero Puchuncaví. We need investment and we do not agree with this decision, they have already closed the plant and that does not change the contamination”, said an angry worker at the protest, without identifying himself to the press.
At the Presidential Palace of La Moneda in Santiago, Boric assured the foundry’s 350 employees that “no worker will be left without their job at the company.”
“Their jobs are guaranteed in other sectors of the company, under the same conditions as they currently have, without any damage”, emphasized the president.
Quintero and Puchuncaví, two coastal towns with around 50,000 inhabitants, are considered “environmental sacrifice zones” since in 1958 the Chilean government decided to relegate artisanal fishing and agriculture to transform the area into an industrial hub where today there are four thermoelectric plants coal and oil and copper refineries.