Chile Arauco wood pulp plant mishap pollutes river

SANTIAGO, June 18 (Reuters) - Chile wood pulp exporter Celulosa Arauco said a mishap at one of its plants on Monday has resulted in the release of toxic waste into a nearby river, in the company's second enviromental incident this month.

The company said the accident occurred at 5 a.m. on Monday at its Licancel plant in southern Chile, when a pipe carrying waste ruptured. The plant had already been closed earlier this month in relation to another enviromental problem.

"According to the company's investigation, the maximum volume of effluents released was estimated at 200 cubic meters, of which only 50 cubic meters are believed to have reached the Mataquito River," the company said in a statement.

Chile is the world's fifth-largest exporter of wood pulp and Arauco is the nation's leading exporter.

Celulosa Arauco, controlled by Chile's Angelini economic group through its holding company Antar Chile


and Copec


, shut the Licancel plant on June 5 after the sudden death of thousands of fish in the Mataquito river.

After an investigation of the incident, Arauco last week fired the plant's three top executives, promised to begin an environmental cleanup and said it would take responsibility for the economic damages to fishing for as long as fishing activities on the river are suspended.

Arauco had closed the plant for 20 days of maintenance at the end of May and reopened it at the beginning of June.

The Licancel plant, with a capacity of 145,000 tonnes of wood pulp per year, accounts for about 5 percent of Arauco's wood pulp production.

Two years ago Arauco was in the spotlight after hundreds of black neck swans died at a nearby wetland sanctuary after operations started at its newly commissioned Valdivia plant.

Since then the Valdivia plant, which is capable of producing 650,000 tonnes of wood pulp annually, has been operating at 80 percent capacity, but Aruaco hopes to get the go-ahead from authorities to operate at full capacity soon.