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Cablegate: Pilcomayo River Pollution Attracts New Attention

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #2934/01 3001842
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271842Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1124
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6230
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 3550
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 7412
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 4672
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1923
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 1974
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 1847
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 4123
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 4561
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE 1572
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 9135
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS LA PAZ 002934

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/AND LPETRONI
BRASILIA FOR JSTORY AND LSTONER
USAID/LAC FOR AFRANCO, MSILVERMAN, RLOUDIS, AND JBISSON
USAID/EGAT FOR CJACKSON, ANE FOR JWILSON
COMMERCE FOR JANGLIN
TREASURY FOR SGOOCH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EMIN ECON BL
SUBJECT: PILCOMAYO RIVER POLLUTION ATTRACTS NEW ATTENTION

REF: LA PAZ 2903

1. (U) Summary: For centuries, mining and milling wastes from
Bolivia's Potosi mining district have polluted the Pilcomayo
River, an important body of water in Bolivia's southwest. A
recent study indicated that many agricultural fields and
waterways are contaminated with heavy metals and arsenic,
which may have long-term implications for local communities.
Past proposals to address the river's pollution have
generated few results, but a new initiative from the
USAID-supported Center for the Promotion of Sustainable
Technologies may change that. End summary.

BACKGROUND
----------

2. (U) Bolivia's Pilcomayo River rises in the foothills of
the Andean cordillera, between the western departments of
Oruro and Potosi, and flows southeast - crossing the Bolivian
departments of Chuquisaca and Tarija, the Argentine province
of Formosa, and the Gran Chaco plains of Paraguay - to join
the Paraguay River near Asuncion. Its watershed covers
270,000 square kilometers and encompasses an estimated 1.5
million people: one million in Bolivia, 300,000 in Argentina,
and 200,000 in Paraguay.

3. (U) The river drains the Potosi mining district, a region
exploited since the mid-1500s for its rich silver and tin
deposits. Colonial mills using mercury-based processing
techniques may have released several hundred tons of mercury
into the Pilcomayo River and its tributaries every year;
today, approximately 30 to 40 mills continue to release
contaminated effluents and mine tailings directly into local
waterways.

STUDY PROVIDES EVIDENCE OF CONTAMINATION
----------------------------------------

4. (U) A 1998-2002 study by researchers from five British and
American universities indicated that many agricultural fields
and waterways are contaminated with heavy metals (silver,
cadmium, copper, lead, antimony, and zinc) and arsenic;
concentrations of these elements in most crops and drinking
water samples fall within guidelines, but heavy metal
concentrations in irrigation waters occasionally exceed
recommended values, which suggest that crops and soils have
been exposed to elevated levels of toxic metals.

5. (U) The pollution may have long-term implications for
local communities, which rely on the Pilcomayo River for
drinking and irrigation water. Residents may be exposed to
toxic metals through the ingestion of contaminated water; the
consumption of livestock that drink polluted water; and the
ingestion of contaminated soil particles, particularly those
attached to and consumed with locally grown vegetables.

A NEW PLAN TO ADDRESS POLLUTION
-------------------------------

6. (U) Past proposals to address the Pilcomayo River's
pollution have generated few results, but a new initiative
from the USAID-supported Center for the Promotion of
Sustainable Technologies (known by its Spanish acronym, CPTS)
may change that. Known for its efforts to redesign
companies' production processes to improve water and energy
efficiency, cut production costs, and minimize environmental
damage (reftel), CPTS has now turned its attention to the
Potosi mining district. Project Director Justo Zapata told
Econoff October 18 that the organization hopes to re-process
mine tailings to remove damaging components and recover
additional minerals, including lead, zinc, and silver.
Successful project implementation could prevent the daily
release of thousands of tons of tailings into the region's
waterways and generate significant revenues through the sale
of recovered minerals. With local and international support,
Zapata said, the project could significantly reduce
environmental degradation.

COMMENT
-------

7. (U) The CPTS proposal may be among the most potentially
effective efforts to date to address the pollution of the
Pilcomayo River and its tributaries. If the project is
successful, it could provide a model for mining districts
across Bolivia, help prevent future contamination, and
improve the lives of many thousands of people.
GOLDBERG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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