comment 0

Antofagasta Plc. Stop Abuses! (2010-2014)

Through documents and photographs, the series 'Antofagasta Plc, Stop Abuses!' explores the symbolic case of Pupio, a valley in the north of Chile that has been heavily impacted by Los Pelambres, a copper mine located in the Andes Mountains. The mine is owned by Antofagasta Plc, a Santiago-based mining corporation that trades on the London Stock Exchange.

Antofagasta Plc. began construction of Los Pelambres in 1997 and operations started in 2000. There, ore is extracted through a system of perforation, then crushed, milled and transported to a concentration plant located at 1,600 meters above sea level where the materials are separated. In the concentration plant, an alkaline flotation system is used to selectively separate the copper concentrate form the worthless material or gangue – by using the way that the different physical properties of their molecules repel water. The unwanted material is deposited in El Mauro tailings.

Following a report by the Foundation Frances Libertés published by United Nations in 2012, a wall of 1,000 meters of compressed sand holds 2060 millions tons of toxic waste material and is just 470 meters above the town Caimanes. As the report claims, the tailings is located in an earthquake prone zone, and that if it collapsed, the 1,600 inhabitants of Caimanes would have five minutes to escape before being buried.

For its construction, 23 families were displaced from their original land. As the report details, the building of the tailings involved the re-direction of the natural course of the water and the contamination of underwater resources with heavy metals, with the consequence of the loss of agricultural activities, traditionally the main economic activity of the region before the installation of the mine. As a result of the construction of El Mauro there has been considerable damage to the national heritage, including the destruction of 140 archaeological sites, the flooding of indigenous burial grounds, and the destruction of the last forest of ‘Canelos’ in Northern Chile.

After copper is ground in the Andes, it is transformed into copper concentrate. This black powder is transported to Punta de Chungo, a port on the Pacific, through a pipeline 120 km long. For this transportation, the company uses large quantities of water to create flows using the power of gravity. At the Pacific port, the concentrate is dried and shipped mainly to Asian markets. The excess of water contains high doses of toxins, and particularly molybdenum and sulphate, both considered highly damaging to the environment and health. Therefore, it cannot be used in the food chain or deposited in the sea. To dispose of these toxic water residues, water-intensive monoculture of Eucalyptus specimens from Australia have been planted.

Download report by the Foundation Frances Libertés (2012)
Download record of slag heaps in Chilean territory (2015)

Filed under: Copper Geographies

About the Author

Posted by

Im a Chilean born, London based visual artist and researcher. My practice explores and reflects on the geo-political power dynamics in mineral industries, geographies and historical narratives. My interconnected research projects involve extensive historical research, fieldwork, the collection of archival materials, new photographic documentation with large format cameras and diverse forms of mapping. My work develops using site-specific working methodologies.

Leave a Reply