Environmental issues in Chile
The country of Chile is a virtual continental island bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Andes Mountains on the east, and the Atacama Desert in the north; it is home to several important ecoregions, such as the Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests, a biodiversity hotspot that harbors richly endemic flora and fauna, and the Tropical Andes, which stretches into northern Chile.
There are endangered species in Chile, including the South Andean huemul, tundra peregrine falcon, puna rhea, Chilean woodstar, ruddy-headed goose, and green sea turtle. As of 2001, 16 species of mammals in a total of 91 were considered endangered. Of 296 breeding bird species, 18 were threatened with extinction. Also threatened were four types of freshwater fish and 268 plant species.
There are a series of environmental issues in this country, with a dynamic and diversified economy. Chile's main environmental problems are deforestation and the resulting soil erosion. From 1985 to 1995, Chile lost nearly 2 million hectares of native forest; these forests were destroyed for pulp, and made way for industrial tree farms. As a result, Chile now has the world's largest expanse of radiata pine tree farms and some of the world's most endangered native forests.
Air pollution from industry and transportation and water pollution are especially acute in urban centers. In 1996, Chile's industrial carbon dioxide emissions totaled 48.7 million metric tons. Untreated sewage poses the major threat to the nation's water quality. As of 2001, Chile had 928 cu km of renewable water resources. While 99% of its urban dwellers have pure drinking water, only 58% of its rural dwellers have the same access. Chile is one of the major mining countries of the world and big-scale mining also represents an important environmental challenge. Severe water shortages affecting many local communities were due not only to persistent drought but to structural problems in the policies governing the exploitation of natural resources, including privatized water management; this led to big protests.
Much of Chile’s water resources are privatized due to the 1981 Water Code which created a market based on water rights. Water is treated as an asset where once an individual or private company receives water rights, they can choose to sell or rent water. The concentration of water resources in the hands of a few corporations has resulted in Chile having the highest water rates in Latin America. Nearly 90% of the water rights for hydroelectric production are owned by three companies. There are more water rights that have been issued than there are reserves in some parts of the country which has led to the drying up of groundwater resources. This shortage has particularly affected the rural and indigenous population of Chile.
The mining industry has had a considerable impact on the environment of Chile. One region in particular that been significantly impacted is that of the Atacama Desert, which is considered one of the driest regions in the world. Mining requires a large quantity of water, with much of this water coming from groundwater supplies. Dust from mining operations can also accelerate the melting of snow deposits on the Andean glaciers. This puts a considerable strain on snow melt water supplies which harms the rural communities living in the Atacama. Another source of pollution results from the mining of lithium within some of the lakes in the region. This has the potential to affect local flamingo population as they are reliant on the lakes as a source of shrimp.
Increased economic activity has resulted in a degradation of Chile’s air quality. Santiago, the capital city of Chile, is surrounded by mountain ranges which facilitates the accumulation of pollutants from car emissions and industrial development over the region. Hospitals become overcrowded as a result of respiratory related problems each year in Santiago. The air pollution in Santiago has resulted in an average of 20,000 people suffering from respiratory problems every year. It is common to use wood for heating in the southern portion of Chile, which tends to experience cold temperatures, as it is less costly than gas or electricity.
Sacrifice Zone: Valparaíso
The valparaíso Province is home to the country's largest private and public ports, Quintero and Valparaíso city, respectively. This area has a high concentration of polluting industries including copper smelters, thermoelectric plants, and power plants. The Province of Valparaíso is known as a national Sacrifice zone, having high concentrations of heavy metals and other pollutants.
Traditionally the people of the Valparaíso Province found their living through artisanal fishing and agriculture. In the past several decades the region's main economy is tourism, in 2016 there was an estimated 1.498,295 tourists visiting the area.
The largest ports in the country are located in the Valparaiso region. The port of Valparaiso is also home to the Chilean Navy base. High rates of emissions, black and Brown carbon (BC and BrC), come from truck and ship activities in this port. The public transportation in the city of Valparaíso is run off of diesel fuel.
Industries in the Area
Quintero Puchuncaví have 15 polluting industries in the region. Many of these industries were built in the early 1960s and have been expanded upon since then. Industries include: Concón oil refinery run by Empresa Nacional del Petróleo (ENAP), Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station and Ventanas Power Plant (the largest power plant in Chile) run by AES Gener, Ventanas Division Copper Smelter operated by the world's largest producer of copper Codelco, and Nehuenco Power Plant operated by Colbún S.A.
Cases of Pollution
In 2011, Escuela La Greda located in Puchuncaví, was engulfed in a chemical cloud from the Ventanas Industrial Complex. The sulfur cloud poisoned an estimated 33 children and 9 teachers, resulting in the relocation of the school. The old location of the school is now abandoned. In August and September of 2018 there was a public health crisis in Quintero and Puchuncaví, where over 300 people experienced illness from toxic substances in the air, coming from the polluting industries. Soil In areas near the polluting industries, testing discovered high levels of selenium and copper in the soil. The Ocean There have been several oil spills offshore of the Valparaiso region. In 2014 there was a spill which resulted in 37,000 liters of oil being dumped into the ocean after two tankers, the LR Mimosa and the Monobouy Terminal, connection broke. in 2015 Doña Carmela leaked 500 liters of oil, and in 2018 the ship Ikaros leaked slurry oil. Once a prosperous fishing economy and now, residents of Quintero Puchuncaví say no one will buy their fish which are contaminated by heavy metals. Many fishermen have lost their jobs because of the pollution, and fisheries have been ruined.
Reformation Efforts In 1992 there was a judicial appeal filed by several women from Puchuncavi against ENAMI Ventanas, this was filed against the refinery for the toxins it emitted. Chile’s National Human Rights Institute considers Quintero and Puchuncaí a sacrifice zone, and after a pollution related health crisis in 2018 there has been an uproar for the right to a clean and healthy environment. This event lead to a suite against the state for violating Article 19 No. 8 of the Chilean Constitution, the right to live in a pollution free environment, plaintiffs include FIMA and the Terram Foundation. The case is still in courts, as of April 2019. Government Intervention In response to the protests against the pollution of industries in the Valparaiso region the government created the National Commission of the Environment (CONAMA)  The Plan of Decontamination of Windows which dealt locally with the emissions from Codelco, has been attempting to reduce emissions from the refinery. in 1965 the Interregal Regulatory Plan of Valparaiso stated that Quintero Bay was risky for human settlement. Despite this there has been an expansion of industrial and housing development.
Local Organizations and Movements There are many movements in the region which have organized against the negative health impacts of the polluting agents. ASOREFEN (former Workers’ Association Enami Codelco Refinery Ventanas or Regional Association of Ex Officials of Enami Ventanas) is a group of former employees of Codelco’s Ventanas refinery, organized against the company’s pollution. Many of the people within it are referred to as Men in Green, which is the people who were first directly exposed to the toxins, usually from working in close contact with them.
Cabildo Abierto Quintero-Puchuncavi: a local organization fighting for the decontamination of the sacrificial zone.
Women of Zones of Sacrifice in Resistance of Puchuncaví-Quintero, an organization established in 2016 in response to health crisis' like the La Gerda school poisoning. These women came together with the ideology of Latin American ecofeminism, to fight against being in a sacrifice zone.
Dunas de Ritoque is a local environmental NGO in Quintero Puchuncaví, fighting for the preservation of the environment. Other Organizations involved in the health crisis of the Valparaíso Province include: FIMA, Ecosystems, Institute of Political Ecology (IEP), Oceana, CODEFF, Terram Foundation, Greenpeace and Sustainable Chile.
- Valdivia Pulp Mill controversy
- VLCC Metula oil spill
- Pascua Lama mining project
- Environmental Water Quality Chile
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