In Chile, 75 people, including 50 children, poisoned with sulfur dioxide

At least 75 people, including around 50 schoolchildren, were poisoned on Tuesday by sulfur dioxide in two cities in Chile. An environmental emergency has been declared. The municipalities of Quintero and Puchuncavi, located north of Valparaiso, and nicknamed “the Chernobyl of Chile” by Greenpeace, are home to mining, oil, cement, gas and chemical companies.

Headache, itching, nausea

Headaches, itchy eyes and throat, nausea… “50 children and 25 educational assistants were affected by the effects of toxic gases,” said a statement from the municipality of Quintero. Placed under observation, they were able to leave the hospital. “We had a sulfur dioxide peak that exceeded the hourly standard five times. Quintero and Puchuncavi have tolerated this for decades but it has to stop,” said Rubén Gutiérrez, the mayor of Quintero, 31,000 inhabitants, 120 km west of Santiago.

The authorities have declared an environmental emergency in these two localities where classes have been suspended, physical activity prohibited and all sources of heating prohibited while temperatures are cool with the approach of the southern winter.

“Polluting cannot be free”

Sulfur dioxide, an indicator of pollution linked to fossil fuels, is one of the so-called classic air pollutants, along with particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Pollution increased in this region of 50,000 inhabitants when the Chilean government converted it from 1958 into an industrial center which today houses four coal-fired power stations and oil and copper refineries.

The governor of Valparaiso, Rodrigo Mundaca, called for “responsibilities to be clarified because polluting cannot be free and mortgaging the lives of children cannot be either”.

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