Alumbrera is an open-pit mine for the extraction of gold, silver and copper by crushing and large-scale flotation separation. Mining activities negatively affect society, health, environment and especially local residents.TRANSLATIONS : italiano
Alumbrera, one of the worldâs largest and most productive open-pit mines, is located in Bajo, in the northeastern part of Catamarca province. The Alumbrera mine is run by the UniÃ³n de Empresa Temporal (UTE), a consortium formed by the Swiss company Xstrata and Canadian companies Goldcorp and Yamana Resources.
The mine’s output is approximately 400,000 tons of ore, containing 190,000 tons of copper and 600,000 ounces of gold. Extraction activities began in 1997 and seven years later local residents and environmental organisations joined forces to fight the mining industry. Civil society used legal proceedings and non-violent actions, like marches and picketing, to oppose the negative socio-environmental impacts of these mining projects, including; : water contamination, plundering of natural resources and reduction of biodiversity.
Bajo de la Alumbrera is located 2,600 meters above sea level, in the northeastern part of Catamarca province. The area is characterised by a topographic depression caused by the erosion of the different ores forming deposits. The mine has been exploited by the consortium Alumbrera Limited, managed by Xstrata Copper, based in Brisbane, Australia, part of Xstrata Plc based in Switzerland and the UK. Xstrata Copper is the major stakeholder, with 50 percent of MAA’s holding, while Goldcorp Inc. and Yamana Gold own 37,5 and 12,5 percent, respectively. Yamana Gold began its extraction activities in 1997 with an investment of US$ 1,200 million. The Argentine national company Yacimientos Mineros Aguas de Dionisio (YMAD) owns the Alumbrera property rights.
Mining activities include the extraction of 91,250,000 tons of ore per year, the removal of 340 tons of rock per day and the use of 66,000 litres of water per minute. The early project approval was based on the need to exploit natural resources and export them as a main engine of regional development. Later, the industrial production plunged while local unemployment rates rose. In addition, people came to realise how open-pit mines negatively affected the environment, as in the case of the SalÃ¬ Dulce basin and Vis-Vis river.
Several local organisations (AndalgalÃ¡ Autoconvocados, Tinogasta Autoconvocados, San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca socio-environmental Assembly, the association âLos Algarrobosâ, the ASANOA Environmental Assembly) joined forces to fight the mining industry and its negative impacts on the environment, launching the Citizen Assemblies Union Against Plundering and Contamination (UniÃ³n de Asambleas Ciudadanas contra el saqueo y la contaminaciÃ³n).
Large-scale mining activities negatively affect natural resources that form the basis for tourism, agriculture and farming â thus irreparably altering the way of life of local residents.
Impacts on local economy: the region of Catamarca is characterised by a varied economy, ranging from mining industry to tourism and trade. Open-pit gold, silver and copper mining resulted in a negative effect on agriculture - olives, walnuts, corn and tobacco crops - and contaminated the Vis-Vis River. Open-pit mining also uses toxic chemicals and large quantities of water and energy, endangering the natural resources needed to sustain economic activities such as agriculture, farming and tourism.
Social conflict: the mining company offered an economic compensation for damages produced, but citizens were split over whether to accept the offer;
Disregard of workers’ rights: people working in mines are exposed to high contamination levels as they are constantly in contact with acids and other toxic products.
Destruction of indigenous people’s means of support: Bajo Alumbrera is a particularly fertile area with many water springs.
The effects of natural acid drainage are multiplied by mining activities, eventually polluting rivers and drinking water.
Pollution of the Vis-Vis river: extraction waste has percolated through the soil adjacent to the mining site, thus polluting drinking water and causing several cases of diarrhoea and vomiting among local residents.
Pollution caused by a broken slurry pipeline: the pipeline transporting mineral concentrates from the extraction site to the Alumbrera plant broke several times, contaminating near-by rivers and the TucumÃ¡n territory. This negatively affected the use of water in agriculture.
Any accident involving the different toxic substances used in extraction, such as imported cyanide, could seriously damage the environment.
Risk of Erosion
The disturbance of rocky terrain due to mining activities can produce soil erosion, transporting sediments to river and lakes further affecting vegetation and water.
Impact on biodiversity
A long distance power line was built to provide electricity to the mine, but it damaged both the environment and biodiversity. The high voltage grid destroyed most of the TafÃ del Valle archaeological site and had a negative influence on the routes followed by birds in the region.
Initial extraction activities include the use of explosives, a technique that seriously endangers the Andean mountain ecosystem. The next phase includes the use of toxic substances, like cyanide, for separating the ore from metals - further affecting both human health and local land plots.
Violation of Rights
Right to good health: chemical compounds seriously endanger the health of those who work in or live near the mine sites. Cyanide can cause brain and heart issues, respiratory problems, cancer and eventually death.
Third-generation rights violation: the right to a healthy environment.
Displacement of residents living near the mine and subsequent loss of the right to a decent home.
Impact on health and democracy
The merging of mining companies and provincial Government interests led to the political exclusion of citizen voices with regard to the management model of the territory they live in.
Attempted political, media and social bribery in order to carry out extraction activities. The mining company offered to finance several universities and hospitals in the region of Catamarca, so as to legitimise its activities.
Worsening democracy crisis: the lack of an independent Judiciary power during the conflict led the citizens to distrust any political institutions. It is worth noting that the Federal Judge who presided over proceedings before the Federal Court of Catamarca was also an YMAD lawyer.
1994: YMAD forms a consortium according to Art. 5, Law 14.771
November 1, 1997: Opening of the Bajo la Alumbrera mine.
February 1998: The mine begins its official activities, due to last ten years.
1999: The slurry pipeline breaks for the first time and a study reveals the high levels of contamination caused by the incident.
2004: Citizens of AndalgalÃ¡ report being forced to leave their homes as a result of the pollution produced by the mine. Local residents launch the association âCatamarca Autoconvocadosâ, while âVecinos por la Vidaâ is an AndalgalÃ¡ Autoconvocados collective (UAC member) that over the year repeatedly blocks vehicle access to the mine.
November 2005: âVecinos por la Vidaâ submits a petition to the local jurisdiction judge accusing the company executives of the illicit trafficking of documents.
June 12, 2006: The slurry pipeline transporting mineral-rich mud from Alumbrera to TucumÃ¡n breaks a second time, and subsequently the Catamarca electoral judge, RaÃºl Cerda, orders the company to properly repair the pipeline.
June 2006: As UAC members, the residents of AndalgalÃ¡, BelÃ©n and Santa MarÃa submit videos and photographs to the Senate as evidence of the damages produced by the mine. An enclosed report, signed by the Alliance of the Peoples from the western province of Catamarca (Alianza de los Pueblos del Oeste de la provincia de Catamarca), urges to stop all mining activities in Alumbrera and to provide economic compensation for damages caused by pollution, such as many animal deaths and the indiscriminate use of water in the departments of AndalgalÃ¡, BelÃ©n and Santa MarÃa.
August 2006: The TucumÃ¡n prosecutor, Antonio Gustavo GÃ³mez, supports the lawsuit against the mine company executives for polluting the local rivers, as the levels of toxic substances exceed lawful limits by 50â150 percent.
December 14, 2006: The slurry pipeline spills for the third time in El Carrizal. The Western Environmentalists (Ambientalistas del Oeste) organization explains that the previous spills have heavily contaminated both the aquifers and the Villa-Vil river bed.
April 20, 2007: Alumbrera invests US$ 15 million in a new facility for processing molybdenum, an essential metal in steel alloy.
June 25, 2007: The residents of Chilecito (UAC members) block two lorries allegedly carrying pollutants heading to Alumbrera. The entire 2007 is characterised by several roadblocks and Autoconvocados’ protest rallies against the mining activities.
August 21, 2007: A fourth mud spill occurs on the border between Catamarca and TucumÃ¡n, near the Santa Ana Mountain. It seems that this time the spill does not reach local rivers and lakes.
2007: The AndalgalÃ¡ Autoconvocados assembly dismisses the Agua Rica Environmental Impact Assessment, and submits its first proposal to the Government, demanding the closure of the Alumbrera mine.
2007: Catamarca’s Bishop Emeritus, Monsignor Elmer Osmar Miani, organises a round table discussion on the mining activity issues. Despite the participation of all stakeholders involved, the meeting leaves things unchanged.
2007: Xstrata Copper starts assessing the sustainably of its activities, also in response to criticism and protest rallies carried since the first spill in 1999. The Alumbrera mine is committed to assisting the social, economic and institutional development of the areas where it operates.
January 21, 2008: The company Vale de RÃo Doce de Brasil confirms its plans to acquire the Xstrata mining Company corporation.
May 29, 2008: The Vice-President of Alumbrera goes on trial before the TucumÃ¡n Federal Court of Appeal, personally charged (according to article 55 of the national law 24.051 on dangerous waste) with the mine pollution. This is the first case of pollution caused by mining activities that actually goes to trial.
May 27, 2009: The National Technology University (UTN) signs an agreement with the YMAD to promote the sharing of academic information among the students, as well as the development of nearby communities affected by the mining project.
July 24, 2009: Former Alumbrera workers provide information on pollution and falsification of reports. Several other ex-workers report to âCatamarcactualâ that the ISO 14001 Environmental Certification was issued by the company’s own staff, which was also forced to lie about the assessments during a press conference.
August 28, 2009: Students carry a street protest against the UBA for accepting funds from the Alumbrera company.
September 24, 2009: The Supreme Court overrules the sentence against the Vice-President of Xstrata Public Affairs, Julian Rooney.
November 4, 2009: Alumbrera Mine is the nationâs eleventh largest export company, with a turnover of US$ 610 million between January and August 2009.
November 11, 2009: Students and professors of Cuyo National University, in the Mendoza province, refuse the funds offered by the Alumbrera company.
November 16, 2009: The Alumbrera mine is awarded the ISO 14001 Environmental Certification by the company Bureau Veritas. This so-called âenvironmental guaranteeâ gives the impression that open-pit mining is environmentally sustainable.
November 24, 2009: The High Council of TucumÃ¡n National University approves the submission of an expert report about pollution levels in the DP2 canal tributaries. caused by drying facilities at the Alumbrera mine.
December 1, 2009: The UNT holds a special session for environmental organisations opposing the open-pit mining activities.
December 3, 2009: During the UNT High Council, representatives from the Alumbrera mining company replies to the questions asked by environmental organisations by denying any kind of contamination.
December 9, 2009: The Federal Court rules that Alumbrera Mining must adhere to the standards regarding the discharge filtration plant in Cruz del Norte, of in the TucumÃ¡n province.
January 13, 2010: Residents of Santa MarÃ¬a and AndalgalÃ report that a dust cloud, produced by mining activities in Alumbrera, is engulfing their villages.
February 10, 2010: Following protest rallies organised by local activists, the mining company Agua Rica suspends its activities around Catamarca.
February 12, 2010: Alumbrera announces it will donate land for house building to the BelÃ©n community.
March 19, 2011: Lorries transporting material to Alumbrera are blocked in the city of Tinogasta.
March 22, 2010: The âTinogasta Autoconvocados por la Vidaâ activists block several lorries going to Alumbrera.
March 24, 2010: Alumbrera Mining, and local officials authorities, release a study showing that water sampled from the Santa MarÃ¬a and Los Nacimientos rivers show no evidence of negative environmental impacts. Environmental activists, accused of endangering and/or planning to attack the mine, are arrested â only to be released the following day.
April 19, 2010: Alumbrera Mine officials deny charges of mineral smuggling.
May 5, 2010: The European Parliament adopts a resolution that calls for a ban on the use of cyanide mining technologies in the European Union.
May 29, 2010: Alumbrera Mine donates equipment for the Catamarca maternity ward.
July 29, 2010: A lorry overturns in Catamarca, spilling 2,000 kg of ammonium nitrate. The compound is usually mixed with gas oil to make a detonator used by mining companies.
August 10, 2010: The House passes a law protecting the national glaciers, vetoed by the Argentine President in 2008.
February 22, 2011: The International price of silver tops $ 33,16 per net ounce, its highest level since 1980.
March 8, 2011: Alumbrera Mine joins the Agua Rica project on copper and gold, a US$ 310 million operation. The main goal is to improve the traditional copper mining method and flotation process.
May 20, 2011: The UAC carries a regional protest rally against âmega-mine projectsâ.
June 29, 2011: The city of Luis Ger Ombudsman files a complaint against the Alumbrera Mine for pollution, with the support of the National University. The aim is to âscientificallyâ show that since its inception the open mine has contaminated the Dulce River with heavy metals.
July 2011: The Alumbrera Mine supports the candidacy to the national Parliament of two officials from TucumÃ¡n University, involved in serious criminal cases against the YMAD. The candidates are LuÃ¬s Sacca, TucumÃ n University executive secretary, and Dott. Rodolfo Campero, a YMAD University representative.
Article by Antonio Gustavo Gomez, head of the Public Prosecutors Office at the TucumÃ¡n Federal Court
No todo lo que es oro brilla. Resumen de impactos ambientales de la minerÃa de oro. VerÃ³nica Odriozola â Campaign against toxic substances by Greenpeace Argentina - January 2003
European Parliament resolution, 5 May 2010, on the general prohibition of cyanide-based mining technologies in the European Union
SecretarÃa de Medio Ambiente de la NaciÃ³n admite que Minera Alumbrera contamina y se complica su situaciÃ³n sudicia
Video. [Visit to Alumbrera mine->http://vimeo.com/2469938)
Anthony, B. 2007.MinerÃ¬a, movimientos sociales y respuestas campesinas. Una ecologÃa polÃtica de transformaciones territoriales. IEP, CEPES. Codice: PE 030.
Gabetta, Carlos. 2002. La Debacle de Argentina Una Argentina que muere y otra que bosteza. Icaria. Codice: AR 014.
Gray, A. 1987. Y despuÃ©s de la fiebre del oro? Iwgia. Codice: PE 009.
Moretti, I. 2006. La Argentina non vuole piu piangere. Sperling and Kupfer Codice: AR