BY WAYNE DWERNYCHUK
Much confusion exists regarding these mills and, unfortunately, it would appear the public is being fed misleading and erroneous information regarding the environmental impacts of these mills. The government of Argentina, apart from being monumental hypocrites, regarding their own environmental record and the effects of the proposed mills, continues to fuel the discord by feeding misinformation to the public. Regular press articles say the same thing ... "the mills will cause damage to the environment, fisheries and tourism". This simply is not so.
If the government of Argentina is so concerned and sensitive regarding environmental issues that affect their country, President Kirchner should address the pollution problems of the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin in Buenos Aires. Millions of people are directly affected by toxic chemicals and unsanitary conditions therein, and have been doing so for countless years.
The government of Argentina says they `only became aware of environmental problems in the Basin once they initiated their scrutiny of the Uruguay pulp mills`. I do not believe the public in Argentina, or anywhere else for that matter, are so ignorant as to actually believe such nonsense. The governments of Argentina, past and present, have been aware of the Basin`s environmental problems for decades, but chose to ignore the less fortunate people in that region; there was no political capital to be gained by addressing the issue.
The hypocrisy of the Argentine government has been exposed on two fronts, the lack of action to curb serious pollution in the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin and the Parana River where numerous pulp mills using highly outdated technology discharge enormous amounts of toxic/hazardous chemicals into the environment directly affecting the river environment and humans.
Argentina chooses not to hold their own pulp mill industry to the same environmental standards they claim should be applied to those mills near Fray Bentos. Paraguay certainly recognizes the environmental problems the Argentine Parana pulp mills cause, but Argentina conveniently turns a deaf ear to their expressions of concern, particularly when it involves joint river use with Paraguay, as is the case with the Fray Bentos mills ... but Argentina MUST, apparently, take a stand at Fray Bentos as their overall credibility is at risk. The embarrassment to the Argentine government is obvious. It would appear the government of Argentina is interested in only one option ... place the blame and focus on some other entity or area of public concern (the proposed mills) and try to deflect criticism. This political stance is unabashedly clear with the lack of concrete action against those who would illegally blockade the bridges linking Argentina and Uruguay, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic gains to Uruguay.
The proposed pulp mills on the Uruguay River will not result in wide-spread environmental damage, will not affect the fisheries resource, and will not adversely affect tourism, provided the mills are operated to engineering design specifications. These forecasts are all presented in detail in the revised Cumulative Impact Report ... perhaps objectors should take the time to `thoroughly` digest the revised document which outlines projected impacts, or more precisely, the lack thereof. These mills can be categorized as amongst the most benign and most technologically advanced of all the pulp mills operating in the world today.
A cooperative stance by Argentina to work with Uruguay on the environmental monitoring and general oversight of the proposed Fray Bentos mills, in order to help allay public concerns, would be infinitely more useful and believable than the erroneous utterances of unprecedented environmental damage to humans and the environment ... these stated without a shred of evidence that these mills will cause such catastrophes. On the contrary, there may be more environmental, social and economic benefits to Uruguay and the river environment, in general, with the construction of these mills than without, perhaps that is what the government of Argentina envies.
If President Kirchner wishes to `protect his Uruguayan brothers from the ravages of the pulp mills`, look first at your own country and protect your own citizens from your own immediate environmental disasters, and trust that Uruguay has the integrity and means to rely on itself to be responsible for its own people.Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, R.P.Bio. is a senior environmental scientist with Hatfield Consultants in Canada and was a consultant for the IFC in its impact study on the Botnia mills. This column is based on a letter originally published in MercoPress. Republished with permission from the author.