Santiago de Chile, June 17 (EFE).- Chile President Gabriel Boric Friday said the state-owned copper producer would begin the closure of the troubled Ventanas smelter after dozens fell ill due to an environmental emergency in the vicinity of the plant.
Codelco decided to close the facility after a peak in sulfur dioxide emissions in the area affected hundreds of high school students and teachers in the region in recent weeks.
“Codelco’s board of directors has decided to move toward the closure of operations at the Ventanas Smelter,” the president said.
He said a thorough study and talks with stakeholders preceded the decision to shut down the facility.
The president announced the decision from the Palace of La Moneda in Santiago after a group of workers protested against the anticipated measure.
He said the closure would be gradual.
“We have said it very clearly, we do not want more sacrifice zones. Thousands live exposed to the environmental deterioration that we have caused and allowed and that as a Chilean embarrasses me.”
The Quintero-Puchuncaví Bay, 160 km northwest of Santiago on the Chilean coast, was declared an “environmental sacrifice zone,” in 1993.
It meant a territory abandoned to industrial deterioration and pollution, permanently affecting human health and biodiversity.
The president assured the affected plant workers and their families that the government would not leave them alone.
“Our government is taking all the necessary steps so that this decision does not negatively affect the workers of the company,” he said.
“I can affirm that no worker will be left jobless. No Codelco worker will be left unprotected, their positions are secured.”
Andrea Cruces, the president of Ventanas union, labeled Codelco board chairman Máximo Pacheco a “traitor.”
Cruces said Pacheco would “be remembered in history as the one who betrayed Chilean mining.”
“You sold us and told the government that you were going to close the windows without a confrontation.”
Multiple cases of poisoning were reported with up to more than 100 students taking ill in the region.
Dozens of students from an educational institute in Quintero developed symptoms like dizziness and headaches on Friday morning. EFE