Jun 25, 2007

Chilean Wood Pulp Firm Admits Spill, Shuts Down Plant

The CELCO wood pulp firm in Chile admitted to inadvertently dumping additional waste material into the Mataquito River last week, less than a month after a major spill from the plant killed hundreds of thousands of fish, putting local fishermen out of work.

According to The Santiago Times, CELCO temporarily closed down the wood pulp plant after the first spill was detected by authorities at the beginning of June, and then reopened the plant later in the month.

Through a press release, CECLCO stated, “According to the company’s investigation, the maximum volumes of effluents released was estimated at 200 cubic meters, of which only 50 cubic meters are believed to have reached the Mataquito River.”

CECLO is Chile’s biggest exporter of wood pulp, and the country is ranked fifth in the world overall for exporting wood pulp. CELCO is owned by the Angelini economic group through its holding company Antar Chile.

After the spill that occurred at the beginning of June at CELCO’S Lincancel plant on the Mataquito River, the company fired three top executives. Jorge Garnham was put in charge of the clean up reparations, including fincancial aid to local fishermen who were unable to fish in the river due to its toxic condition.

Afterwards, environmental authorities in the region got together to assess the extent of the environmental damage. Regional governor Alexis Sepúlveda told The Santiago Times that CELCO should be the one responsible for funding the tests.

In Lincantel, Chile, mayor Hector Reyes reports that the city will soon begin legal action against CELCO.

Environmental groups are also making demands for CELCO to provide a full report to the country revealing any other possible hidden waste ducts in all five of its plants throughout the country.

In addition to CELCO’s investigations, the environmental crime division of Chile’s Investigaciones police will also look into the events. After the incident, police discovered two manmade channels linking the plant to the river, which contained an abnormal and possibly toxic substance.

CELCO has been in trouble before in terms of environmental problems in Chile. The Santiago Times reports that in 2004 the company caused a huge disaster in Carlos Anwandter Wetland Sanctuary, where thousands of black-necked swans died or migrated away because of pulp plant poisoning.

The Santiago Times reports that some have complained that Celco has never had to pay any significant penalty for the repeated environmental disasters because Angelini interests have financially supported the Concertación political coalition, which has governed Chile since 1990.