UN experts concerned about devastating impact of Swedish toxic waste in Chile
UN human rights experts * said today they are deeply concerned about the continued devastating impact on a local community of a toxic waste dumping by a Swedish company in the northern town of Arica. Chile, almost 40 years ago.
Toxic waste – which remains outdoors, uncovered and exposed to the elements of nature – poses a health and safety risk given its high arsenic content, including drinking water systems.
“The people of Arica continue to suffer from serious health problems caused by the landfill,” the experts said. “The community has been denied access to justice for years, received little or no corrective action, and even today those in need of medical attention are ignored.
“And the human rights impacts on the community will only increase over time.
An estimated 12,000 people were affected by the waste, and many lost their lives, experts said. Side effects reported include cancer, joint pain, difficulty breathing, allergies, anemia, miscarriages and birth defects. Some women of childbearing age who played on the waste heap as children were unable to conceive.
Experts said Swedish and Chilean authorities were responsible.
In 1984-1985, the Swedish company Boliden Mineral AB dumped nearly 20,000 tonnes of toxic waste, containing high concentrations of arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead, in Arica. Boliden paid a local company, Promel Ltda., To receive the waste.
Experts said Sweden knew the waste was dumped in Chile but failed to act in accordance with its international obligations established under decision-recommendation (C (83) 180) of the Organization for Cooperation and Development economic and customary international environmental law. They added that at the time of the first shipment, the import request received by the Chilean authorities incorrectly indicated that the waste was not toxic.
In 2013, 796 residents of Arica, including human rights defenders, filed a lawsuit in Sweden against Boliden. The North Norrland Court of Appeal found the victims’ claims to be time-limited and the Swedish Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
This amounts to a denial of environmental justice, in violation of the right to a fair trial recognized in the European Convention on Human Rights, experts said. Modern environmental laws take into account latency periods of exposure to toxic substances (often decades), and establish that any time bar should be counted from the moment of obvious manifestation of damage.
In addition, UN experts criticized Arica’s health authorities for allowing the import of toxic waste without performing chemical analyzes. Housing authorities have also built houses in the waste contaminated area. These houses are still occupied today by Chilean nationals, migrants and asylum seekers who live in poverty or extreme poverty.
“The Swedish and Chilean authorities must cooperate and put an end to long-standing human rights violations,” the experts said. As preparations for a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment are underway, Arica’s victims continue to demand environmental justice.
“Urgent measures must be taken to safely return hazardous waste to Sweden for proper disposal. Effective remedies must be provided urgently to current and former residents of Arica, including adequate health care, resettlement and access to adequate housing that can ensure conditions for a life of dignity. “