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A spill of over 1 million liters of a cyanide solution in Veladero mine, Argentina, near Jachal and Iglesia towns in San Juan Province, approximately 370 kilometers from the provincial capital, San Juan city, has put the local populations on high alert.
Judicial investigations are targeting national and provincial authorities and the company in charge of the mine, the Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold.
As reported on Monday by Argentinean news outlet Infobae, the Environment Institute of the Engineering School of Cuyo University published a study revealing high levels of contamination in water samples from several San Juan areas.
The study was mandated by the Municipality of Jachal on samples taken on September 14 in different areas of the province. Coliform bacteria levels were registered far above the limits established by the Argentinean Food Code and bacteria causing serious infections, such as meningitis, were also found.
In addition, the study found metals and other substances exceeding acceptable levels for human consumption: boron, chlorides, sulfates and arsenic.
Members of the Local Neighbors Assemblies believe the results of these studies show that Barrick Gold is pouring sewage residues in water sources in addition to the cyanide spill, endangering the health of the local populations.
After the September 13 spill in the mine located in the Andes, Barrick Gold´s operations were judicially suspended for several days. However, the measure expired on September 24.
This is a gold and silver open-pit mine that uses cyanide leaching methods to extract the minerals. The project is considered one of the most important in Argentina and the world.
Thousands of people demonstrated since the spill was made public, demanding the closing of the mine. As activist Ramon Gomez said to Real World Radio there were at least two mobilizations that gathered approximately 10,000 people. Gomez inhabits the area affected by the spill.
The interview was conducted by Friends of the Earth Argentina, a collaborator of Real World Radio, in downtown Buenos Aires, in the “sovereignty tent” established by different organizations to gather different claims against the extractive model. The tent also aims to facilitate discussion of other production and consumption models, in defense of common resources.
Gomez said that the Veladero spill took place at least a week before September 13, but that the event was covered up. In addition, “it is very suspicious that the mine makes this mistake or accident such a short time before its closing”. The activist explained that the mine will stop operating for three or four years, having operated for ten years, and he wonders whether this spill was the only one.
He considered the spill as one of the largest environmental disasters in Argentinean history and as an “incredible and brutal attack against nature”. He said this resulted in the deaths of animals and that there are areas where Barrick Gold is delivering a six-liter water bottle per family because it is not possible to drink water from the rivers.
Gomez said in the interview with Friends of the Earth Argentina that small farmers of the area cannot prevent the animals from drinking the river water and dying. He also said that the governmental authorities are using chlorine to “mitigate” the contamination. “In order to mitigate the damage caused they are chlorinating the water, which represents a double threat, due to the millions of liters of chlorine poured”.
The activist also made reference to the case of a landfill full of polluting materials spread over 52 hectares belonging to Los Pelambres Mining Company (of Antogafasta Minerals) also in the Andes, in the border area between Chile and Argentina. According to the activist, the place, that is used to dispose of waste, contains cadmium, sodium and mercury, on one of San Juan River´s sources that provides water to San Juan City and other areas.
At the end of the interview, Gomez regretted the “dominance exerted by mining companies on state bodies”.
La oposición a la minería debe entenderse como la lucha por los derechos que esa actividad no respeta, pues “cada derecho que se le otorga a una empresa, es un derecho que se le resta a una comunidad”, asegura el coordinador del Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina (OCMAL), César Padilla.
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