Chile: Pascua Lama mine suspended over safety

The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has had to suspend some of its operations at Pascua Lama—a giant open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile—as a result of an inspection by Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) on Oct. 24. Sernageomin ordered the suspension on Oct. 31 after its inspectors found unsafe levels of fine particles in the air at the mine; a report blamed “incorrect technical monitoring” of the earth being excavated. Barrick said it suspended the operations voluntarily on Oct. 27. Chilean mining minister Hernán de Solminihac indicated that the suspension may last several weeks. (Radio Universidad de Chile, Nov. 10; Bloomberg News, Nov. 11, via BusinessWeek)

Workers at the mine have reported safety issues in the past, and on Aug. 4 group of 23 contract workers protested conditions at the facility by occupying the San Ambrosio Church in Vallenar, capital of the northern Chilean province of Huasco. The $8 billion mining project has also been the subject of protests in both Chile and Argentina by environmentalists who say the mine threatens glaciers and the local water supply. The two issues “are part of the same problem,” according to Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Monitoring Center for Environmental Conflicts (OLCA). The location of the mine high in the Andes “is negative for the workers because of altitude conditions, but climatic conditions have environmental impact effects and effects on workers’ health,” he said. “When you talk about the dust that affects the health of the workers, it’s the same dust that’s destroying the glaciers.” (Radio Universidad de Chile, Nov. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 18.