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.
AVISO: Continúa Alerta Amarilla en zona Quintero-Puchuncaví. Intendente @jmartinezvalpo informó que clases en establecimientos educacionales siguen suspendidas en esas comunas, hasta nuevo aviso. Mañana lunes, por lo tanto, no hay clases en Quintero y Puchuncaví. @SEREMI_EDUC_V
— Intendencia Valpo (@IntendenciaV) August 26, 2018
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”.
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.
Frente contaminación con gases tóxicos en Quintero y Puchuncavi actitud gobierno es clara :1. proteger salud de las personas y el medio ambiente, tomando todas las acciones preventivas necesarias 2. Investigar las causas para evitar que se repitan y sancionar a los responsables
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) August 25, 2018
In the meantime, classes will remain closed on Monday as authorities try to bring the situation under control and determine the leak’s sources.