February 10, 2019 / 8:27 PM / 6 days ago

Peru's environmental watchdog reports tailings spill from Southern Copper mine

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Peru’s environmental watchdog said on Sunday it was investigating a tailings spill from a unit of Southern Copper Corp, one of the world’s largest copper producers, into a river in an area that has been inundated by heavy rains.

The Agency of Evaluation and Environmental Enforcement (OEFA) said the spill occurred in the waste deposit area of the Cuajone mining operations of Southern Copper, located in the Moquegua region approximately 535 miles (860 km) southeast of Lima.

OEFA investigators at the Cuajone mine said a “flow of a greenish solution” into the Torata River since Friday has stopped.

“According to a preliminary report presented by the company, the environmental emergency occurred due to extreme rainfall throughout the southern zone of the country and, as a result, they activated the contingency plan of the mining unit,” said the state-owned OEFA in a release.

Representatives of Southern Copper, which is controlled by Grupo Mexico, were not immediately available to comment.

Heavy rain in southern Peru has left at least five people dead and damaged hundreds of homes since last week, according to authorities.

In northern Chile, some areas have seen the highest levels of rainfall in more than 40 years, leaving six people dead, roads and bridges damaged along with more than 2,000 homes. Codelco, the state-owned mining firm, was forced to suspend operations at two of its mines, Chuquicamata and Ministro Hales, for at least 24 hours.

The OEFA investigation will determine the cause of the spill, responsibility for it and its likely impact, the agency said.

Jorge Chavez, the head of Peru’s Institute of Civil Defense (Indeci), said that at least five people had been killed and three others were missing since Friday in mudslides in the southern regions of Moquegua and Tacna. About 1,600 homes have been destroyed or affected by rains which would continue until Wednesday, he added.

The government of Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra has declared emergencies in several provinces and districts in six regions of the country due to heavy rains and overflows.

Vizcarra traveled to the south of the country at the weekend and pledged to send in the army and humanitarian aid for those affected.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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