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Article

28 Oct 2022

Author:
Euronews

South America: Lithium extractive industry is compromising the environment and local communities' water supply in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile

"South America’s ‘lithium triangle’ communities are being ‘sacrificed’ to save the planet", 28 August 2022

...Lithium is a key component of the batteries used in electric cars. The "white gold" is found in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia in quantities larger than anywhere else on Earth...But at what cost to the communities near lithium plants, many of whom live in poverty?

"We don't eat lithium, nor batteries. We do drink water" said Veronica Chavez, 48, president of the Santuario de Tres Pozos Indigenous community... With around 2.2 million litres of water needed to produce one ton of lithium, the extractive industry is increasingly compromising the environment - and locals’ chance of a liveable future...

...Chilean law has made it difficult for companies to gain concessions...Only two companies have permits to exploit the metal - Chile's SQM and American Albemarle... Yet, the environmental costs are starting to stack up, and locals fear there is worse to come...

"We want to know, for sure, what has been the real impact of the extraction of groundwater," said Claudia Perez, 49, a resident of the nearby San Pedro river valley.

...Argentina has become the world's fourth-biggest lithium producer from two mines. With dozens of new projects in the works with the involvement of US, Chinese, French, South Korean and local companies, Argentina has said it hopes to exceed Chilean production by 2030...

... Bolivia holds more lithium than anywhere else - a quarter of global resources, according to the USGS.

Half of the residents in the region - which is also rich in silver and tin - live in poverty, household surveys show...

"We were expecting major industrial technological development and more than anything, better living conditions," he told AFP. "It didn't happen"...