As reported in Victories in Chile, Ecuador, and Russia
Chile awards compensation to community contaminated by toxic waste In Chile, the Supreme Court ordered financial compensation for 356 residents of Cerro Chuno, a low-income neighborhood contaminated by toxic heavy metals. Residents were unaware of the dangers posed by abandoned mining wastes, left in piles where children played. ELAW partners at Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente (FIMA) worked for 10 years to win justice for the community of Cerro Chuno. Fernando Dougnac, President of FIMA sent thanks to ELAW scientist Meche Lu: “Your testimony was mentioned in the court decision and was one of the key pieces of this decision . . . it is so great to win, particularly when the court decision brings justice to the dispossessed.” More than 20 years ago, a Chilean company imported 21,000 tons of toxic mining wastes to the city of Arica. Arica is one of the driest inhabited places on earth. Wind spread toxic dusts from the waste piles, which were later abandoned. In a classic example of environmental injustice, a low-income housing project was built next to the piles of waste! In 1998 the waste was removed and dumped in a nearby ravine, with no further clean up. At FIMA’s request, ELAW scientist Meche Lu traveled to Arica and collected soil samples from the affected neighborhood for analysis at a laboratory in Oregon. The samples were found to contain lead, arsenic, and cadmium far above those considered safe for urban areas. Meche returned to Arica with FIMA attorney Francisco Ferrada to testify in court about the results of the soil analysis. She informed the court about the continuing health risks of contamination in the affected neighborhoods. For more than a decade, children in Cerro Chuno have suffered from learning disabilities and neurological disorders caused by lead poisoning. In a historic ruling, each of the affected residents will receive $16,000 from the municipal health service. This is the first time a Chilean court has required the government to pay for failing to protect citizens from injuries caused by environmental contamination.