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13 Aug 2021

Kinga Harasim, Latin American Bureau

Chile: Communities blame Anglo America for polluting its rivers

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"Glencore and Anglo-America causing pollution heavey metals from mines in Peru and Chile causing illness and damaging crops", August 13 2021

In Chile, at the end of January, communities of Colina together with the Investiga Colina NGO reported on social media the presence of a ‘strange foam’ in the Las Compuertas sector of the Colina River.

In response, the councillor for Colina, Andrés Vásquez, sent an team of environmental professionals to take samples of the water, which were later delivered to the ALS Global laboratory for analysis.

The mountaineer and doctor, Mauricio Purto, pointed out that the river may have been contaminated with tailings from the Los Bronces copper and molybdenum mine operated by Anglo American. ‘They can take samples and discover what lies behind this foam. But nothing will happen – Anglo American and its tailings have more power than the Chilean authorities’, – tweeted Mauricio.

Following the allegationsAnglo American published a statement the next day (January 31) on social mediaclaiming to have conducted a study which showed that they have nothing to do with the contamination of the Colina River:

‘This phenomenon is natural, and it is about endogenous foams that are caused by the dragging of sediments from the bottom of the river and its subsequent aeration, product of the turbulence of the waters. (…) In addition, a team from the SDS certified laboratory took samples, the results of which rule out any anomaly in the composition of the water.’

The president of Investiga Colina, Eduardo Pérez Jofré, questioned the integrity of this study: ‘What caught our attention, was especially the speed with which the results were obtained.’ The mayor of Colina, Mario Olavarria, in turn, has supported the company in affirming that the strange foam in the river has not been a result of an operational incident...

Then, in a further statement on 26 February, Anglo American admitted that, although preliminary samples showed the water’s PH level to be normal, the final results revealed very high arsenic levels reaching 0.147 mg / l at Estación Colina and 0.153 mg / l at Compuerta Vargas, whereas the  safe limit is 0.10 mg / l. Nevertheless, they denied any link between mining operations and  the increase in heavy metals in the Colina river.

‘We see with great concern how large-scale mining in this country seeks legal subterfuges to obtain water. In addition, they expose us to the risk of serious contamination contingencies due to pipeline ruptures, as have already occurred, which would definitely bury agriculture in the area.’ said David Ojeda, spokesman for the Quilapilún Valley Farmers Community who denounced the incident.