At the end of August 2006, Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (CELCO) opened its fourth pulp mill in Chile. The 858,000 t/yr mill is part of CELCO’s Nueva Aldea Forestry and Industrial Complex. The pulp mill cost US$1.4 billion and is in the valley of Itata, in the region of Bío-Bío, 400 kilometres south of Santiago.
CELCO’s most controversial plant is in Valdivia where hundreds of black necked swans were killed as a result of waste from CELCO’s pulp mill.
Before the pollution, the Cruces River wetlands was home to about 6,000 black-necked swans. Rather than adopting a closed loop system (or closing down altogether) CELCO denies responsibility. The company plans to build a pipeline to the sea.
For villagers living in Mehuín this is an old story. The company started secret studies near their village 10 years ago. When the authorities approved the project in 1996 they gave CELCO the choice of dumping its waste in the river and installing a more modern system or simply dumping the waste via a pipeline out at sea.
The sea was the cheaper option. But villagers from Mehuín launched a campaign “No to the pipeline” and prevented CELCO from carrying out studies for the pipeline. As a result, the government and the company decided to dump the effluent in the River Cruces. Once the river started to stink and the black-necked swans started dying, Ricardo Lagos, the then-president of Chile, suggested a solution: dumping CELCO’s waste via a pipeline out to sea.
But the villagers of Mehuín continue to protest. For example, in August 2006, villagers from Mehuín prevented a CELCO boat from carrying out studies related to the pipeline. A navy vessel escorting CELCO’s boat opened fire on them.
“The fishermen are asking: if the plant’s effluent polluted a wetlands ecosystem and killed hundreds of black-necked swans, why wouldn’t the waste pollute the waters where they ply their trade?” Manuel Baquedano, from the Institute of Political Ecology (IEP), told IPS.
The Nueva Aldea pulp mill will dump its waste into the Itata River which provides water for more than 40,000 farmers. CELCO is proposing to build a pipeline to the sea, which will be completed in late 2007. Local people and environmentalists have protested against both options. Hardly surprising, really, given CELCO’s record.