Teck Resources’ Carmen de Andacollo mine in northern Chile has come under scrutiny for the way it is reacting to the COVID-19 crisis as the number of cases in that country continues to rise.
The mayor of the municipality of Andacollo, Juan Carlos Alfaro, spoke with the Chilean press yesterday morning to voice his concerns about the lack of government action on COVID-19 and the vulnerability of communities in Carmen de Andacollo face due to generalized contamination, some directly linked to Teck’s operations, which has left people’s respiratory systems weak and less likely to successfully combat the virus.
“The situation that Teck is producing for us is worrisome. [With the blasting,]...dust descends on the city and will make things more complicated if we develop problems with the virus spreading. We hope that the company recognizes these risks and work with the Andacollo community,” Alfaro said.
Andacollo has been determined by government officials to be a region “saturated with contamination” suffering some of the highest levels of air pollution in the Andean region, with grave impacts for the health of the local population. The World Health Organization has ranked Andacollo among the top 20 worst cities in Latin America for its ambient particulate matter concentrations, which it says can produce increased risk of heart attacks, respiratory illnesses and cancer. The communities are worried that these pre-existing health conditions, related to ongoing mining activities, will make them more vulnerable for contracting and transmitting the virus.
Neighbouring communities have been asking Teck to take environmental remediation seriously for years, to clean up the waste piles that litter their landscape, and to assist with atmospheric contamination. With the worsening of the drought, clouds of dust descend daily on people’s homes, and are absorbed into their bodies.
Other mayors in the Coquimbo region, watching the rate of infection climb, have asked for total quarantine measures to be put in place to protect communities and workers. Alfaro noted, “The majority of the mayors have asked that the entire country be slowed to a halt. Unfortunately we don’t have the authority to stop these companies; this is strictly under the purview of the President of the Republic. But we believe we should follow the example of our neighbouring countries.”
Neighbouring Argentina recently imposed a nationwide quarantine which forced mining companies to minimize their workforce to minimum care and maintenance activities, when the national miners’ union threatened wildcat strikes.
Teck however, has been slow to react. Late last week, the company was criticized for dragging its feet by workers and communities alike around its operations in Elk Valley, British Columbia. This week’s echo from Chile calls into question the seriousness of their COVID-19 Response Measures.
Alfaro urged the company to comply. “If they [Teck] truly want to be a good neighbour, they have to take preventative measures – they have to act in accordance with what the people want.”