UN Calls Out Polluting Argentine Mine

MiningWatch Canada — Earthworks — Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca

Toxics and Human Rights Office says Veladero Mine is a Persistent Polluter

Today the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights published a letter expressing concerns over water contamination from the Veladero gold mine in northwest Argentina. The letter was also signed by the Chair-Rapporteur Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, as well as the Special Rapporteur on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment. The letter was sent on September 16 to the governments of Argentina, Canada and China, as well as the two mining companies operating the site, Barrick Gold and Shandong Gold, who were given 60 days to respond before it was made public. To date, only the Argentinian government’s reply, requesting more time to provide a response, has been made public. 

The letter references repeated spills of toxic chemicals used in gold processing that have been exposed and systematically documented by the Jáchal No Se Toca Assembly, a group of concerned citizens downstream from the mine that formed after the first spill in December 2015. The repeated spills from the mine site have contaminated the watershed as far as Jachal, hundreds of kilometers downstream, with cyanide and mercury. The most recent spill was documented in June of 2022. 

The Special Rapporteurs stated that, “We are especially concerned that these spills severely affect the right to life, the right to the highest possible degree of health, the right to food, the right to access to information, the right to environmental justice, the right to potable water, the right to work and secure working conditions, and the right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment free of toxic substances.”

The letter outlines multiple ways that the Argentinian government and Barrick Gold should provide access to information, including transparency surrounding the spills, the steps taken to ensure the company is compliant with the law, the measures that have been implemented to address environmental harm and human rights violations, and any steps taken to prevent future spills. 

According to the Argentine Mining Code (Article 264, section “e”), if a company experiences three code violations at a mine, they must proceed to the definitive closure of the operation. So far, Minera Argentina Gold SRL continues to benefit from the silence of local and departmental authorities, putting the health of local residents in grave danger.   

“The lack of action from the government of Argentina with respect to these multiple spills is negligence on the part of the relevant authorities,” said Saúl Zeballos from the Jáchal No Se Toca Assembly.

The mine operated by ​​Minera Argentina Gold SRL (MAGSRL), a 50/50 joint venture between Canadian Barrick Gold and Chinese Shandong Gold, is a large industrial gold and silver mine that uses cyanide heap leaching to separate the metals of value from the ore body. The company has a history of denying the existence of spills at its Veladero mine.

“It’s extremely worrisome that the company continues to deny the recent spill that surely could create a crisis of water quality for downstream communities,” said Viviana Herrera, Latin American Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

The mine is located within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve San Guillermo, established in 1980, and home to 125 species of animals including the vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), the Lesser Rhea (Pterocnemia pennata garleppi), and the horned coot–three species at risk of extinction.  The Jáchal No Se Toca Assembly has repeatedly criticized the fact that industrial mining is incompatible with the goals set out for the environmental protection of the biosphere. Additionally, the mine violates Argentina’s 2010 Glacier Law. According to the law, mining activities are not allowed within periglacial areas, where Veladero is located. 

“The government of Argentina must enforce the mining code, the Glacier Law and hazardous waste law to ensure the protection of downstream communities, threatened species and sensitive ecosystems. The letter from the Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights elevates the urgent need for governmental action and begins the process for the appropriate closure of the Veladero mine,”  said Domingo Jofré from the Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca.  

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