Yellow alert in central Chile after massive chemical gas leak; Piñera urges “investigation”

SANTIAGO – Two cities in Chile’s central Valparaiso region are on yellow alert after 250 people were intoxicated by the leak of several chemical gases that have allegedly originated from several companies in the area, says the Interior Ministry’s National Emergency Office (Onemi).

The alert was declared earlier last week after several chemical gases such as methyl chloroform, nitrobenzene and toluen leaked from oil and chemical plants in Quintero and Puchuncaví cities, situated on the country’s Pacific coast. Nineteen people have been hospitalized so far as a result of smelling the toxic elements, according to the regional authorities.

Valparaiso’s regional governor Jorge Martínez has accused the country’s National Oil Company (ENAP) of being responsible for the disaster. “We have concrete evidence that the pollutant emission that has caused massive intoxication in the región originated from some of the processes that ENAP was conducting in its Aconcagua refinery in Conco (25 kilometers from Quintero,” asserted the governor.

The state firm has been forced to stop maintenance work at two of its oil tanks in Quintero following orders from the country’s Environment Supervisory authorities. However it’s rejected any responsibility in the environmental situation. “ENAP doesn’t have any past records that show it’s responsible in the regrettable situation,” according to the statement in which the company has expressed its regret.

“We are deeply sorry for the situation that Quintero residents have had to go through due to regretful environmental incidents that have taken place this week. This is not a isolated case for the residents of the two affected cities.”

Also, National Copper Corporation of Chile (CODELCO), the biggest copper-mining company in the world, has also distanced itself from being involved in the disaster. “We have not detected any change in our air pollution parameters”.

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Valparaiso’s senator, Francisco Chauhuán, has sounded the alarm, describing the situation as the “biggest environmental disaster in Quintero and Puchuncaví communes”. “These two places have turned into death zones. I think the Chilean State has failed to guarantee the residents’ right to live in an area free of contamination”. He’s also accused the ENAP and CODELCO of being responsible for the catastrophe, warning that he will do “whatever necessary to shed light on the hands behind the situation”.

The emergency has also urged the Chilean leader to take action. In a tweet, Sebastian Piñera has urged an “investigation into the matter” ordering the “sanctioning of the responsible” authorities.

In the meantime, classes will remain closed on Monday as authorities try to bring the situation under control and determine the leak’s sources.

About Ali Dashti 10 Articles
Ali Dashti is an Iranian journalist. Having a Master's degree in Edition, Production and New Journalist Technologies from Spain's El Mundo newspaper in collaboration with CEU-San Pablo University, he speaks 4 languages: Persian (Farsi), English, Spanish and Russian.