Photo: Mauricio Purto

This article, by Javiera Martinez, is based on the information reported by the Chilean newspaper El Desconcierto. You can find the main source here. It is also based on information collected by Chilean authorities and community members about the event that occurred in the River Colina.

Anglo American is one of the largest mining companies in the world. In 2019, it registered 29.9 billion dollars in revenue. In Chile, it has mining operations in three regions of the country: Los Bronces in the Metropolitan region, El Melón in the Valparaíso region, and Collahuasi in the Tarapacá region. However, this mining giant is not known only for its large amount of mineral extraction, but for the socio-environmental conflicts in which it has historically been involved, due to the negative impact it has on communities and the degradation of ecosystems. The communities that live near the El Soldado and Los Bronces operations have been directly affected.

This year, Anglo American faced a lawsuit from the El Melón community. The community had no access to drinking water, because of over extraction by the mining company. Although the company has rights to use 119 litres of water per second, which represents the 13% of the total water rights of the commune, the Supreme Court has defended the company, arguing that, on the one hand, the water shortage is a consequence of the huge decrease in rainfall in the region, and on the other hand, the company has voluntarily done everything possible to restore water for the community. El Melón communities are tired and they are convinced that Anglo American bears the main responsibility for the water crisis and the water inequality in their territory. 

Currently, the giant company could also bear the greatest responsibility for another disaster in Chile. Local authorities report the presence of arsenic and aluminium in the River Colina. The town’s councillor, Andrés Vásquez, reported the presence of heavy metals in the river after a study of the waters, which was undertaken after local residents warned of the appearance of foam in the riverbed. Vásquez added that in the report, these metals “are found to be at much higher levels than the maximum limit permitted by regulations in irrigation water”. He insisted that “these results are extremely concerning for the community, not only because of the economic and environmental consequences, but above all for the possible risk to public health that they represent.”

When a “strange foam” was seen in the river, analysis was carried out which found quantities 25 times higher than normal levels of arsenic and aluminium in the riverbed. Early reports point to possible contamination from mining tailings from Los Bronces. Anglo American, the company which operates the copper and molybdenum mine, has defended itself with its own studies. After this analysis was shared, accusations centred on the Anglo American mining company for possible contamination of the river due to a tailings leak. In a statement, the company commented that they had carried out their own studies in the Compuerta Vargas and Estación Colina sections of the river.

Anglo American’s neighbouring communities are directly impacted by its operations. There is an urgent need to examine and investigate the damage that the company has generated in the local population and throughout Latin America.

Credit to Andrés Vasquéz: Water analysis results, River Colina, by ALS laboratory, showed elements far outside the current standard in irrigation water. 

Photo: El Desconcierto