Chile: Refinery Reopens in Spite of Intoxication in School

The Chilean Ministry of Health decided to close a school on March 23, 2011, after confirming 40 cases [es] of citizens and students intoxicated by sulfur, copper and other sulfur-containing materials in La Greda, in the Valparaiso region. Those affected experienced headaches and vomits after inhaling “a blue cloud” coming from the refinery of the state mining company Codelco (National Copper Corporation of Chile). Besides La Greda, some other nearby populations, such as Horcón [es] y La Chocota [es], were hit by this emergency that, according to Codelco, was caused by a failure during metal processing.

Ventanas industrial area, Chile. Image by Flickr user Fernando Mandujano (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Ventanas industrial area, Chile. Image by Flickr user Fernando Mandujano (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Besides the temporary closure of the school, on March 30, a Court from Valparaiso sentenced Codelco to halt smelting [es] in its “Ventanas” refinery while the lawsuit of the Ecologic Council of Quintero and former workers of Enami [es]- current Codelco- that brought about the company shut down is under investigation.

On March 30, blogger @CEFIRAX informed about these news on Twitter:

Tribunales d Justicia paraliza funcionamiento de #Ventanas por contaminación en #Puchuncaví #Paiscontaminante #huelladecarbono

Justice Courts halts #Ventanas operation due to pollution in #Puchuncaví #Contaminatingcountry #carbonfootprint

Paola Arévalo (@Lolitalolein) gave her opinion on the same day:

Menos mal que atinaron, la solucion no era cerrar el colegio de #LaGreda, si no cerrar la fundicion #ventanas. Obvio!!

Thank God they made a right decision, they did not have to close the #LaGreda school to solve this problem, but halt #ventanas smelting. That was pretty obvious!

While the “Ecologist Party” (@ecologistachile) informed:

Corte paraliza obras de la Fundición #Ventanas de #Codelco por contaminación en Escuela La Greda. Tras…

Court halts Ventanas smelter of Codelco due to pollution in a school in La Greda…

Researcher Marta Barba (@martukabarba) also wrote:

Por suerte decidieron x la escuela y no x la fundicion #ventanas … Momentaneamente. A ver q pasa.

Luckily, they decided in favor of the school and not the #ventanas smelting plant… for now. Let’s see what happens.

Ricardo Díaz (@Aaeero) said enthusiastically:

Excelenteee pararon #Ventanas ojalá la cierren pobre gente de Puchuncaví hay que puro catetear para que la cierren es el colmo !!

Excellent! #Ventanas was halted, I wish it was shut down. Poor people from Puchuncavi! Now you need to irritate them in order to shut down this plant. This is too much!!

Journalist María Paz llanes (@MPazIS) also celebrated the news:

Que bueno q cierren #ventanas. Tenerlo abierto es como meter presa a la víctima y dejar libre al ladrón

It is great that #ventanas was shut down. Keeping it open is like keeping a victim in prison while setting the thief free.

Nonetheless, the same court that sentenced the shutdown of this plant, allowed its reopening in less than 24 hours after Codelco lodged an appeal. In order to win this appeal, the company presented a report of the head of the Legal Department of the Regional secretary of the Ministry of Health, Juan Luis Solari, who asserted that smelting does not endanger people’s health.

In addition to this, next Monday, April 4th, children were allowed to go back to school [es] in La Greda after the Minister of Health asserted that Codelco had presented a written commitment promising that there will not be a similar case in the next three months while the school is opened, before it is relocated in a place that does not endanger children’s health.

The Puchuncavi town council, the former workers of Enami and environmental groups intend to overturn the Valparaiso Appeal Court's decision that allowed reopening the station.

Since March 31, reactions on Twitter appeared quickly. Journalist Angélica Salcedo (@angelicasalcedo) argued that:

El desarrollo económico NO puede fundarse en destrucción del medio ambiente #Ventanas

Economic development must not be based on environment destruction #Ventanas

Willy Flores (@willyflores) asked:

Lo de #Codelco #Ventanas a lo menos es extraño. ¿No?

What happened in #Codelco #Ventanas is kind of weird, right?

@cubicado commented that,

La sistemática destrucción de #Ventanas, #Puchuncaví y #LaGreda por parte de ENAMI/CODELCO es cuento viejo. Llevan 40 años matando gente

The systematic destruction of #Ventanas, #Puchuncaví and #LaGreda by ENAMI/CODELCO is an old story. They've been killing people for 40 years.

Blogger Daniel Fuentealba (@dfuentealba) said:

Codelco se ríe de la corte suprema… #ventanas sigue funcionando. Con estas acciones los estudios de impacto ambiental no tienen sentido.

Codelco is laughing at the supreme court… #ventanas is still running. With these actions the studies on environmental impact are worthless

Melanie Weissohn (@meluweissohn) asked for,

#Fiscalización estricta y responsable para #Codelco #Ventanas y para todas las empresas cuyos desechos y emanaciones sean #tóxicos.

Responsible and severe #Monitoring for #Codelco #Ventanas and for all the companies with #toxic waste and emissions.

The controversy is far from over. An article [es] that confirms that pollution is not a new issue in La Greda was published in the online newspaper El Mostrador on April 1. In addition to this, there are accusations of neighbors being intimidated as informed by Radio Cooperativa and mentioned on Twitter by news curator @Canal_Chile:

Vecinos de #Ventanas acusan “amedrentamiento” por parte de funcionarios de #Codelco vía @Cooperativa

#Ventanas neighbors accuse #Codelco of “intimidation” via @Cooperativa

The case is still open.

Ventanas Refinery, Chile. Image by Flickr user lukas_y2k (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Ventanas Refinery, Chile. Image by Flickr user lukas_y2k (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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