In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, serious contamination is currently affecting the quality of the air that people are breathing in Caimanes (4th region of Chile), putting the health of its inhabitants at risk. It is not the first time that the mining company operating in the region has generated serious environmental impacts in the valley. This leads us to think over the actions and responses of the actors in a conflict that has taken place over many years.
The mist from the mine
From the beginning of May, a strange mist has been hanging over the community of Caimanes. The inhabitants of the community immediately detected that it was dust emitted by the tailings behind the Mauro dam, eight kilometres above the town. Tailings, the weak link in the mining process, appear under the appearance of a fine powder that contains mercury, arsenic, manganese, and many other heavy metals. The toxic cloud spreads across the valley and deposits its fine particles on the land, houses, and people.
This is yet another episode in the series of human rights abuses committed by Minera Los Pelambres (MLP) in the town of Caimanes. In 2008, the mining company installed, against the will of the vast majority, the third largest tailings dam in the world. After “the stolen waters”, the disappearance of which was held to be the responsibility of MLP by the Chilean Supreme Court on October 21, 2014, and after the danger of the collapse of the dam was recognized by the same court in the same year, now a new drama is affecting the community.
This visible air pollution which, it is assumed, could affect the airways and lungs of the people who live there, is occurring precisely at the time when the national contingency focuses on the Covid-19 pandemic, which also causes respiratory failure.
In Caimanes, for years, most people have refused to consume local drinking water because it was shown that it could be contaminated by heavy metals. They also have to endure living with the risk of the collapse of the gigantic 300-metre-high dam that could end their lives in minutes. Now, even just breathing the air could also be a risk. And this time, the company failed to inform residents about the poisonous mist.
It was the residents themselves who revealed the fact and denounced it. Warned that the toxic cloud incident was becoming known, MLP acknowledged the fact but blamed the wind and the drought. Indeed the lack of water certainly exacerbated dust production and the air currents blew the fine particles from the dam towards the valley. But is it really natural events that are responsible for the environmental accident, rather than the two billion tons of mine tailings stored in the open air? The mining company tried to give a quasi “natural” explanation of a serious contamination event, the origin of which was its own mining production. How is it that a company of this size, belonging to one of the most important economic groups in the country, can show such neglect for human life?
Read more on the website of London Mining Network