Fluoride Action Network

Ecologists and fisheries team up against aluminum plant in Chile

Source: Agencia EFE | November 18th, 2001 | by Matilde Wolter
Location: Chile

Santiago, Nov 18, 2001 (EFE via COMTEX) — Chilean environmentalists and fish-farming entrepreneurs, who for years have been bitterly at odds, have joined forces to oppose construction of an aluminum plant in the Andean nation’s pristine south.

The defacto alliance between the two normally antagonistic sectors came about when the Canadian firm Noranda decided to take up an old project that may involve construction of three hydroelectric plants and a seaport.

The company wants to produce aluminum in the Aysen preserve of forests, rivers and fiords some 1,600 kilometers south of Santiago. Just under half the Aysen region is protected.

To the initial demonstrations by ecologists who formed a common front against the project have been added condemnations from the powerful Salmon and Trout Producers Association. That group said fish cultivation and mining were “incompatible and mutually exclusive” in the area.

Executives from the salmon fisheries, which in recent years have become a successful export industry, said at a press conference that they would adopt every legal and administrative mechanism to stop the building of the aluminum plant.

For the first time the salmon fishery executives are in accord with their former detractors, who accused them of contaminating the marine ecosystem and killing seals.

The salmon producers argue that the success of their business, projected this year to be worth more than $1 billion, is based on the pristine Aysen environment and the degree of cleanliness in their production process.

The first battle in the war against big aluminum occurred last August when Noranda began taking steps for approval of the environmental impact study for the project dubbed Alumysa.

An evaluation is required for the authorization of any industrial project in Chile. The impact study goes to the National Environmental Commission (CONAMA), which is expected to approve or reject the Alumysa impact report in the coming weeks.

According to 17 ecological organizations that joined forces in the Aysen Life Preserve Alliance, the project, which is likely to cost $2.75 billion, will destroy 10,200 hectares (25,185 acres) of unspoiled land and forest.

“There are a lot of gasses produced in an aluminum plant including greenhouse gasses and gasses that effect the ozone layer,” Peter Hartman, the Aysen director of the National Committee for the Defense of the Flora and Fauna (Codeff) told EFE.

Hartman, holding a Catholic University study on the impact of Alumysa, said the study turned in by Noranda is full of “unusual omissions” such as in the case of fluoride which is not even mentioned in the study.

“Fluoride is the worst contaminant and strongly affects the fauna and vegetation in at least a 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) radius,” Hartman said.

Aluminum processing plants also produce cyanide, arsenic, asbestos and hydrocarbons which are carcinogenic according to the Catholic University report.

These contaminants would come from the 660,000 annual tons of toxic residues that would be spewed out by the plant in the Aysen region, after processing the 1,100 tons of bauxite, aluminum’s raw material, that will arrive each year to the region from Australia, Brazil or Jamaica.

“If the project is approved, Chile will become a garbage dump for wastes and toxins. To some degree we are promoting the importation of toxic residues” Hartman said.