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The state-owned company Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, announced this Friday the closure of a smelter plant located in the “Chilean Chernobyl,” a contaminated area on the country’s central coast.

By majority vote of its board of directors, the company decided to close the Ventanas smelter, in the industrial zone of Quintero and Puchuncaví, about 140 km west of Santiago.

The decision comes after a new episode of air pollution on June 9 that affected 115 people, most of them schoolchildren, and forced the closure of schools, as has been repeated for decades due to the pollution of the place.

“The complex socio-environmental situation of the Puchuncaví-Quintero industrial complex has been exposed in recent weeks after different episodes of poisoning,” Codelco said in a statement.

“This plant is located within an industrial, mining, energy and port complex whose environmental conditions have caused incidents that especially affect children in schools and kindergartens, as well as older adults,” it added in the document.

As soon as the decision was announced, dozens of workers from the Ventanas Foundry went out to protest on the road and set up incendiary barricades against the measure.

“We are not responsible for the contamination of Quintero Puchuncaví. We need the investment and we do not agree with this decision, they have already closed us and that does not change the contamination,” said a furious worker at the protest, who did not identify himself before the media.

Quintero and Puchuncaví, two coastal towns with some 50,000 inhabitants, have been considered “environmental sacrifice zones” since the Chilean government decided in 1958 to relegate artisanal fishing and agriculture to convert the area into an industrial hub that today houses four thermoelectric plants coal and crude oil and copper refineries.

Codelco also stated that it will establish various phases for the cessation of operations and that the closure will take months. They will also seek a “just transition” for the 350 workers of this foundry.

The environmental organization Greenpeace described this area as the ‘Chilean Chernobyl’ after in 2018, due to a serious pollution episode, some 600 people from Quintero and Puchuncaví went to medical centers with atypical clinical symptoms such as vomiting blood, headaches, headache, dizziness, paralysis of the limbs, as well as strange welts on the skin of children.

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