The community of Puchuncaví and Quintero, an area known as “the Chilean Chernobyl”, continues to await justice in environmental matters for three years, when there was a massive emission of toxins in what was one of the greatest environmental crises in the country.
There are still no culprits for this catastrophe and many of the promises of the Government of Chile to bring this area to life have not materialized. a bay 100 kilometers from Santiago besieged by an industrial cordon where it operates with chemical elements.
“We are still waiting for justice, it’s been three years and we still don’t know who it was (…) There has been a very large absence from the State, “Carlos Vega, a fisherman and environmental activist from this area, tells Efe, where more than 1,700 people were poisoned, including more than 1,500 children.
These massive environmental pollution events took place between August and September 2018 and they also forced to paralyze industrial activity and suspend school classes for a few weeks.
Headaches, fainting or vomiting are some of the symptoms that presented the poisoned and there is still the fear of new diseases that can lead to long-term exposure to chemicals, as well as suffering cognitive damage.
The prosecution investigates six executives of the National Petroleum Company (Enap)Although according to experts it is complex to determine a culprit considering that this industrial pole contains 15 petrochemical, fishing, mining and other sectors.
In 2019, during the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, apologized for the situation of Quintero and Puchuncaví and assured that he would take action to eradicate the five “sacrifice zones”, areas where there is a high industrial concentration near populated areas, which the country has dragged on for years.
His bastion it was a decontamination plan that limits the emissions of three large companies in these two towns (state mining company Codelco, Enap, and power company AES Gener), to which was added a norm that regulates hourly emission of sulfur dioxide (SO2).
Between both actions, it has been achieved reduce the episodes of saturation of this gas from 108 in 2016 to 9 in 2020 and lower concentrations by 85%, according to official data.
In parallel, Piñera announced a battery of measures like cleaning the shoreline or the creation of a drinking water network so that “people do not feed on water with arsenic” (related to the high rates of cancer in the area).
However, the environmentalist Rodrigo Mundaca, governor of the Valparaíso region (where these towns are located), told Efe that these latest measures they have not yet been fulfilled.
“Government keep prioritizing activity industrial over the communities, that is why they are called ‘sacrifice zones’, because there are people susceptible to being sacrificed for the sake of development, “he lamented.
According to the same source, no other announcements were made such as the construction of a cancer center and two new health centers or a plan to analyze the impact of pollutants on health.
Piñera also announced the early closure of four coal-fired power plants by 2025, two of them located in the Puchuncaví sector, within the framework of a government plan to close all coal-fired plants by 2040.
The regional secretary for the Environment, Victoria Gazmuri, told Efe that “without a doubt, there is much to do” but that the results indicate that she is leaving. “in the right direction”.
Meanwhile, activists and experts point out that government measures are “insufficient” especially considering that Chilean regulations regarding polluting gases have more permissive standards than those of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Manuel Leiva, a pollution specialist at the University of Chile, explained to Efe that the protocol only contemplates the emission of particulate material, SO2 and nitrogen oxides (NOX), “Leaving out many other harmful pollutants.”
“In general, all the commitments for the management of slaughter areas have been minimal, palliative and decorative measures,” said Ricardo Celis, president of the Environmental Commission of the Chamber of Deputies.
The Director of Policy of Greenpeace Chile, Josefina Correa, explained to Efe that the situation of Puchuncaví and Quintero responds to an extractivist model which is replicated throughout the country with forestry and mining companies.
“It is a failed system,” he said, “that promised people a development that never came and that only caused a violation of their rights to live with dignity.”