• The peaceful resistance   of la Puya in Guatemala  vs. KCA
    The peaceful resistance of la Puya in Guatemala vs. KCA

    International Allies, such as IPS, MiningWatch Canada, CIEL, and Earthworks are collaborating with other international and Guatemalan organizations to support communities peacefully resisting the ‘El Tambor’ gold mining project.  As a result of the successful resistance that led to the suspension of the project, Nevada based KCA has launched a US$300M international arbitration suit against Guatemala under the terms of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). MORE INFO

  •  Supporting the   implementation of the   mining ban in El   Salvador
    Supporting the implementation of the mining ban in El Salvador

    We have continued to support  the activities of member organizations of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, a grassroots coalition that led  a local movement to prohibit mining in March 2017. Since the mining prohibition, local organizations have continued to advocate with government authorities measures to ensure a proper implementation of the prohibition laws. The environmental movement has now formed the National Alliance against the Privatization of Water to fight attempts by the Legislative Assembly to privatice the management and distribution of water resources as the new government of president Nayib Bukele moves the country towards a more bussiness friendly environment.  MORE INFO

  • Following the tracks of   OceanaGold in the   Philippines
    Following the tracks of OceanaGold in the Philippines

    While OceanaGold has left El Salvador, the company still owns projects around the world that are facing community resistance. In nueva Vizcaya, Philippines, communities affected by the Didipio mine have been been resisting since 2007. The company has been linked to human rights violations such as failing to obtain free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) from local indigenous communites, forced demolitions, pollution of rivers, unjust conditions of workers, illegal arrests and defamation against environmental activists and community leaders who oppose the mine. Currently,  IPS and Miningwatch Canada are supporting a coalition of communities, state government institutions and environmental organizations such as Alyansa Tigil Mina and the Kalikasan people´s Network as they fight to prevent OceanaGold from having its permit renewed. MORE INFO

  • Extraction Casino report in Colombia
    Extraction Casino report in Colombia

    In 2016, after massive protests led by the Committee in Defense of the Water and the Santurbán Highland, Colombia's Constitutional Court put the final nail in the coffin to a large gold mining project let by Canadian company Eco Oro. The court decided that no extractive activities could take place in the high-mountain ecosystems known as the ‘páramos’. As a result, Eco Oro Minerals is suing Colombian state for $764 million USD. The Comité and Colombian social organizations are now ready to mount a campaign, with international support, to dennounce the unjust lawsuit.

  • International Allies Against Mining in El SalvadorWe are a group of organisations from Australia Canada, Europe and the U.S. that support the Salvadoran people's demand for sovereignty, the right to water and healthy communities. We coordinate our work with the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador and with communities directly affected by mining projects.  

    Read More
  • 1

Videos

  • Up Next US Representative Ilham Omar speaks at the Letelier Moffitt Award ceremony
  • Up Next The legacy of Marcelo Rivera
  • Up Next Organizations dennounce the impact of mining in Central America
  • Up Next How El Salvador Is Creating Climate Refugees
  • Up Next Threats to the mining prohibition(SPANISH)
  • Up Next Video Conference - International Solidarity Campaign with the...
  • Up Next The Western Gazette Documentary: Mining in El Salvador
  • Up Next El Salvador prohibits Metallic Mining, A Victory for the People!
  • Up Next El Salvador Passes Historic Ban on Metal Mining
  • Up Next El Salvador's gold fight goes international
  • Up Next Unpolished Gold
    The toxic legacy of Commerce Group mining.
  • Up Next Protect Wisconsin's Water - Marc Rosenthal
  • Up Next Gold or Water?

Investigations into Pollution in the San Sebastian River

The containers analyzed by MARN presumably contain cyanide and ferrous sulfate

By Gloria Morán

Translation by Jan Morrill

Original Version in Spanish

SAN SALVADOR – The color of the water seems to get worse as the current advances, beginning as an almost clear color until it becomes a strong brown color, which smells of rust and where the rocks which are immersed in the water also seem to have changed color over time.  This is the reality for the San Sebastian River in La Union.

Pollution of rivers in El Salvador is well known, but this river in particular has caught the attention of environmental activists and, now, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) because of the heavy metal contamination supposedly coming from the top of the San Sebastian Mountain, which used to be the site of mining operated by the multinational corporation Commerce Group since 1968.

However, according to a report presented by researcher Flaviano Bianchini, mining operations by other companies date back as far as 1904.

On the edge of the river there are a number of houses.  Living there would be a pleasant experience if the pollution from the river weren’t such a dangerous contrast.

Also, close by one can find livestock animals, such as cows, chickens and pigs, all of which consume water from the river.  The pigs freely bathe themselves in river water.

Some locals wash their clothes, their cooking utensils and drink water from this river, especially in the rainy season when the current hides the brown color of the water.  They think, “if the water is clear, there is no pollution.”

The river accumulates all the acid mine drainage, especially the drainage washed down in the rainy season of metals leaching from the mountain, exactly where the mine was operating.

The Investigation

The MARN began its investigations after receiving complaints from the population which was concerned about the presence of containers holding high risk chemical substances near the top of the mountain.

There were two yellow containers, apparently new, that are secured by two locks on each container and around the containers there was a small brick wall.  In one of the containers there were 23 barrels, presumably full of sodium cyanide and the other held black bags of ferrous sulfate, both of which are chemicals used in the gold extraction process.

The MARN took samples of both the chemicals found in the containers as well as the river water, within a perimeter of exactly 2.5 km of the San Sebastian River. The containers were open by staff from the Firefighters of La Union.

In spite of appearance that containers and even the locks had recently arrived, the person in charge of the site, who asked not to be identified, said that they have been there since 2009 and that they are the property of the Commerce Group, a company that brought them to the site with the hope of using them if the Government issued their permits to mine.

Roberto Avelar from the Office of Environmental Compliance of the MARN said he was not sure of the date when they will finish the investigation, but stated that when it’s over they will determine what to do with containers, what measures they will take regarding the river’s pollution and how to protect the lives of the locals.

Artisanal Mining

There is a narrow but long, humid and dark tunnel that is held up by small wooden beams.  Young men who live in the town of San Sebastian work in this tunnel.  There is not just one tunnel, but five more have also been counted.

Any human who enters in this tunnel and is not prepared for the humidity, the darkness and the lack of air won’t last five minutes before running in search of the exit. 

One of the young men who work here said that the workers go in four or five times a day to bring out rock or soil that is then cleaned in an artisanal process to extract the gold.  They are called “güiriceros” (which means a foragers).

Their tools are pickaxes, shovels, gas or battery operated lamps, a wheelbarrow, and the willingness to do a dangerous job without adequate safety measures.

There are four young men who aren’t more than 22 years old but no younger than 15 who work in this tunnel. Laughing and joking they said they are used to going in and out of the tunnel and that “we’re used to it.”  They are aware of the danger but are not worried about it, this is their job, and that is how they survive.

The Procedure

In 2011 ContraPunto had the opportunity to witness the artisanal process for cleaning rock extracted for mining, and on that occasion a worker, who asked not to be identified, stated that buying soil and finding gold is like playing the lottery, because there are times when the process pays off and times when it doesn’t.  He explained that there have been times when he has gone two years without finding any gold.

When the rock is given to workers who process the soil they go through the labor-intensive task of first pulverizing the dirt, which then is called clods.  Then it is molded into balls the size of a baseball and which are put in the sun to dry.

The dirt is crushed in an artisanal grinder that is operated by a young man who spends more than five hours moving a double ended stick, that is “v” shaped allowing him to hold on to it, in circles.  The lower part of the stick has a ball of cement attached that weighs about 150 pounds. This tool has a deep base where the soil is placed and this is how the work of pulverizing the soil begins.

When the balls of soil are dry, they are put in an oven where some chemicals in the soil are burned off.  According to the worker who does the processing, this is to improve the clods and find more gold.

After the oven, the balls are placed again in the grinder where they are mixed with water and mercury, the chemical that separates the gold from other elements.  “Even though the mercury leaves the gold white, once it is put in the oven it takes on a lovely color because it is pure 24 karat gold,” said the worker.

He also stated that artisanal mining incurs less risk than industrial mining, because even though the workers have a safety protocol, the toxic emissions from the chemicals they use are much stronger and more dangerous because they work at greater depths within the mountain, apparently around 400 meters deep.

The artisanal mining that is currently operating in the area would still entail risks, but to a lesser degree, due to the fact that this activity does not use chemicals, like cyanide, and would not cause large scale pollution of the environment nor humans.

Recent News

URGENT COMMUNIQUE: To the people of Asuncion Mita, the national and internationa…

Cerro Blanco - Friday, 23 September 2022 - 17:09 PM

Urgent Communique from the Municipal Commission Specific to the Consultation on Mining   The members of the Commission recognized and designated by the Municipality of Asuncion Mita, Jutiapa to organize the Municipal Consultation on Mining petitioned by citizens of our municipality, are...

The Cerro Blanco mine and the right to consultation

Cerro Blanco - Thursday, 22 September 2022 - 12:09 PM

A municipal referendum was held on September 18 in Asunción Mita, Guatemala, that will impact the future of the Cerro Blanco mine.  The question on the ballot aske d people if they were in agreement with the presence of mining projects that...

PRESS RELEASE: The municipal consultation on Cerro Blanco mine is valid and legi…

Cerro Blanco - Wednesday, 21 September 2022 - 16:09 PM

Different environmental and ecofeminist organizations, ecclesial movements, and regional activist alliances participated as international observers in the municipal consultation held this past Sunday, 18th of September in the municipality of Asunción Mita, Jutiapa, Guatemala. The consultation was related to the presence...

Public statement of the Local Governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvado…

Cerro Blanco - Sunday, 12 June 2022 - 16:06 PM

The Governments and Local Authorities of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, represented hereby are members of the Lempa River Trinational Border Association, and also the "Trinational Network for the Rescue of the Lempa River", are gathered today in response to...

MIRIAN MIRANDA: There is a genocidal plan against the Garífuna people

Regional News - Saturday, 25 December 2021 - 12:12 PM

Thelma Gómez Durán | Mongabay * As of the 2009 coup, Honduras became a perfect political laboratory to destroy the institutions, says Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (also known as Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH). This organization...

PRESS RELESE: Environmental Organizations Dennounce Privatization of Water in El…

Media Releases - Thursday, 23 December 2021 - 09:12 AM

THE GENERAL LAW ON WATER RESOURCES APPROVED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY LEGALIZES WATER INJUSTICE, PROMOTES THE THEFT AND DISPOSSESSION OF WATER IN THE TERRITORIES San Salvador, December 22, 2021. On December 21 of this year, the ruling party of the Legislative...

Communique: Community organizations fear the return of metal mining in El Salva…

Media Releases - Thursday, 16 December 2021 - 17:12 PM

Communique: Community organizations fear the return of metal mining El Salvador San Salvador December 16, 2021 - Only four years have passed since El Salvador banned metal mining in all its forms. The struggle led by communities affected by the threat...

El Salvador: Metallic Mining Threatens Again

Mining prohibition El Salvador - Tuesday, 14 December 2021 - 08:12 AM

*ANDRES MCKINLEY - El Faro On March 29, 2017, the Salvadoran population celebrated with joy, hope and pride the approval of a law prohibiting metallic mining in all of its forms at the national level. This historic victory of a country...

NOTEWORTHY

NEW BOOK: The water defenders - how ordinary people saved a …

Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 13:01 PM

Mining prohibition El Salvador

  Water is life. Countless communities across the world, from Flint, Michigan to the Standing Rock Reservation to the Gualcarque River in Honduras, have used this phrase as a rallying cry...

Read more

From dreams of gold to organic agriculture

Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 13:01 PM

Pacific Rim/OceanaGold

* Angélica Cárcamo / Norma Ramírez  - ARPAS In 2000, the Pacific Rim mining company intended to employ 450 families in the Department of Cabañas, north of El Salvador. Although the...

Read more