Polluting Pulp Mill Draws Protest and Spurs World Court Case
Environmentalists from Argentina are continuing their more than two-year protest of an Uruguayan pulp mill along a river that separates the two countries. Protesters say the cellulose processing plant, which went into operation on November 9, will release pollutants into the Uruguay River and threaten local ecosystems and human health. Argentine authorities claim that the mill violates a bilateral treaty and have taken the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands.
In a letter to the international community, Emilio Martinez Garbin, national representative for the Argentine province of Entre Rios, contends that the mill threatens the health and livelihood of residents in Fray Bentos City in Uruguay and Gualeguaychu City in Argentina. To supply cellulose, Botnia, the Finnish company that owns the mill, is growing tracts of eucalyptus trees, which Garbin says is creating a monoculture dependent on large water resources. He claims that Uruguay violated the 1975 Uruguay River Treaty when it authorized construction of the pulp mill without consulting the Argentine government. Both countries are expected to submit their written pleadings before August 2008, after which the international court will determine how to proceed with the case.
Botnia has invested US$1.2 billion in the enterprise—one of Uruguay’s biggest foreign direct investments—and expects to produce 1 million tons of cellulose at the plant each year. Garbin says that because the company does not use 100-percent chlorine-free technology at the site, the dioxin produced and other compounds released into the air can trigger respiratory ailments, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
Guayubira Group, one of the Argentine organizations engaged in the protest, emphasizes that eucalyptus plantations deplete and pollute aquifer replenishment areas. Every day, some 100 million liters of water will be taken from the river, then returned as wastewater at more than 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) and with toxic compounds, according to Garbin. To fight the mill and monoculture plantations, protesters have used techniques that include blocking the bridge linking Fray Bentos and Gualeguaychu for more a year, organizing pickets by speedboat, and marching before the embassies of Uruguay and Finland in Buenos Aires.
This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.