December 4, 2013
Tension rises over UPM paper mill
MONTEVIDEO — The infamous UPM paper mill plant, formerly known as Botnia, on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River does not pollute beyond what is allowed under existing regulation, new reports from the neighbouring country indicated yesterday.
These reports are consistent with the data collected by the Río Uruguay Administrator Committee (CARU), but which it cannot release due to a lack of an agreement between Uruguay and Argentina, said Luis Hierro, a Uruguayan member of the binational institution.
“Reports on 46 environmental criteria analyzed in water samples from the plant’s surrounding area all indicated normal levels. The samples examined were obtained at the same time and places as those studied by CARU, and they are identical,” Hierro, who was Uruguayan vice-president between 1999 and 2004 during the presidency of Jorge Batlle, said.
The new studies were presented by the Uruguayan National Environment Directorate (Dinama) during a UPM Monitoring Committee meeting held Friday in the city of Fray Bentos, where the plant is also located.
They also reported, however, that throughout the days in July that operations were halted at the paper mill due to a technical problems, sulphur levels registered in the air were superior to those allowed under existing regulation, and a strong smell was reported in the city.
“These figures are the great argument that Uruguay has to grant UPM permission to increase production,” Hierro said.
The Uruguayan government is currently contemplating whether to allow the Finnish firm to increase production from 1.1 to 1.3 million tons per year.
With an official decision pending, José Mujica has refused to comment on the issue, while opposition legislators claimed UPM’s request will be denied due to pressure from Argentina.
“The government, once again, seeks to avoid problems with Argentina, even when that is to the detriment of Uruguayan jobs,” said National Party lawmaker Álvaro Delgado.
Dinama’s inspectors have argued that the plant’s expansion is viable and does not entail an environmental hazard.
UPM has announced it will cease operations again between September 14 and 25 for maintenance works, but spokespersons revealed that if the Uruguayan government denies their request to expand, production will not be resumed until November, affecting the jobs of 6,000 Uruguayans indirectly or directly linked to the paper industry.
Environmental demonstrators have been protesting against the plant since before its inauguration in 2007, with protests still taking place in Gualeguaychú.
On Sunday, hundreds gathered in the Entre Ríos city, crossing the bridge that unites the country and reading a petition against UPM’s request to increase production.
The notorious UPM paper mill, formerly known as Botnia, caused a bilateral clash between Argentina and Uruguay, reaching the Hague’s International Court of Justice, which in 2010 allowed operations to continue at the plant after judging that the alleged contamination of the Uruguay River had not been proven. The issue continues to divide the countries and now has the potential to return to the fore of the bilateral agenda.
—Herald with AP