Five decades of pollution in Chile’s Quintero-Ventanas Bay | Video

Over the past 50 years, the productivity and biodiversity of this once teeming bay has plummeted due to pollution. The populations of Quintero, Ventanas, and Puchuncaví, located in the province of Valparaiso, are the most severely affected.

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Three oil spills have affected the bay since 2014, with discharges exceeding 38,000 liters.

Government studies have found high levels of arsenic and mercury in seafood from the coast.

In 2011 more than 30 children and nine adults were struck ill by a chemical cloud that reached the school of La Greda located in Puchuncaví.

On September 24, 2014, a ruptured connection between the tanker LR Mimosa and the Monobouy Terminal caused 38,700 liters [10,200 gallons] of oil to spill into the ocean, according to a report by the Chilean Maritime Authority. This was just the first of a string of spills.

The second came in August 2015, while the tanker Doña Carmela topped up fuel. On that occasion, about 500 liters [132 gallons] fell into the ocean. The latest spill took place in May of this year when the ship Ikaros began leaking slurry oil after a hosepipe detached.

The National Petroleum Company (ENAP) immediately took responsibility in public statements. However, activists have accused ENAP of disseminating inaccurate information about the scope of the 2014 emergency. “ENAP management must take responsibility for the utter lack of seriousness in its estimate of liters spilled. They have twice given false information to reduce the public outcry created by this serious incident,” said Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization.

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However, the oil is not the only problem.

The Ventanas Industrial Park, at the border of the Puchuncaví and Quintero communes, was founded in 1961 as part of a government drive for “productive development.” A copper smelter was the main project in the area. Since the establishment of the industrial area, pollution has steadily intensified.

The soil was the first to die, followed by plants—flowers and trees native to the region, which has historically been a rich producer of beans, lentils, peas and wheat. “20 years ago the soil was very fertile. You could find ground water only six meters [20 feet] below the surface. Nowadays, you can only find it 12 or even at 25 meters deep,” according to the specialized web Mongabay.

Acid rain, caused by the acids present in the atmosphere due to emissions from power plants, burned the land. Between 1964 and 2007, the area cultivated with cereals and tubers was reduced by 99 percent. Only ash remains.

Today there are 14 industries operating on the coast, including copper smelters, cement plants, dry bulk ports, copper concentrators and four thermoelectric plants fueled by coal and petroleum coke (a cheap but highly carcinogenic residue derived from cracking processes).

Ventanas Bay was transformed from a summer tourist destination into a reservoir of chemical waste. There are no tourists on the beach.

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When the oil spills started, fishers came together and created the S24 fishing union and raised the environmental flag. However, their efforts have not been strong enough to improve the situation.

When companies arrived in Ventanas, they promised progress, employment and a better quality of life. In the beginning, the community did see some progress. The industrial park provided steady employment for many residents throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, leading to an unprecedented population explosion, explained several area residents. However, until this day, the areas adjacent to the industrial park do not have the necessary infrastructure to support that change. Some parts of Ventanas do not even have drinking water or sewage systems.

In 1993, the Ministry of Agriculture declared Puchuncaví and Quintero a “saturated contamination zone” by sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM10), but this did not prevent the industrial park from continuing its dangerous expansion.

Emergency events due to contamination multiplied: coal ash wastewater, toxic clouds, heavy metals in food. The full consequences are still not clear and authorities have not demonstrated the will to find answers.

Most of the locals suffer health problems. Respiratory illnesses, irritation of the respiratory tract, asphyxia, dizziness and headaches increased.

According to Dr. Juan Carlos Ríos, a specialist at the Toxicologic Information Center of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, chronic exposure to pollutants has long-term effects. “Lead in small doses can cause cognitive impairment in children and decrease their intellectual capacity. Exposure to sulfur dioxide (SO2) can cause irritation of the respiratory tract and, in large amounts, can lead to symptoms of pneumonia or pulmonary edema,” he says.

Source | news.mongabay.com

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