Information regarding deliveries to Arica more than 30 years ago

The Court of Appeal for northern Norrland announced on March 27th the ruling in the case about Boliden’s deliveries to Arica, Chile in the mid 1980’s. The court found, like the district Court in Skellefteå, that Boliden wasn’t liable for damages. Bolidens assessment, which is supported by the district Court’s ruling, is that the deliveries were safeguarded by meticulous work and were done in accordance with Swedish agencies and by permission from Chilean agencies. 

Boliden – a player in the global metal industry 

Metal companies processes a bunch of different metals and other compounds which in many cases are both toxic and environmentally hazardous but in a refined state could be a valuable source for extraction. One company’s waste products is often another company’s raw material. In the same way that Boliden ships waste products to other companies, who can extract metals and other compounds from it, Boliden also receives other companies’ waste products – which we extract. The amount of final waste all together, which has to be deposited, can be minimized. 

Boliden’s deliveries to Promel 1984-1985 

Between 1984 and 1985 Boliden delivered a total of approximately 20 000 tonnes of waste sludge from the Rönnskär plant to the Chilean company Promel in the city of Arica. The sludge was residual material from Rönnskär’s arsenic plant and contained i.a. arsenic, lead, iron, gold and silver. At Rönnskärsverken, it had been established in the early 1980’s that the own processes were not suitable for extracting the waste sludge, and they were looking for different alternatives for disposing of the material, where one of several alternatives was reprocessing in another company’s process. 

Boliden’s relations with Promel began in 1983 as part of Boliden’s careful evaluation of potential recipients of the waste sludge. The parties subsequently entered into an agreement to the effect that the waste sludge would be transferred and exported to Promel’s plant in Arica, Chile. Chile was a significant mining nation and Promel had many years of experience in extracting arsenic. The purpose of the sale was for Promel to independently process the waste sludge and thereby create mainly two products (raw arsenic and rust goods containing gold and silver, among other things) for resale to other metal companies. Promel’s plant – which was fenced and located in an industrial area next to the desert on the outskirts of Arica – was well suited for this purpose. 

After a couple of test shipments to Promel for laboratory-scale testing and to the Chilean authorities, supplemented by a visit by Rönnskär’s then environmental manager, a first shipment of waste sludge went to Chile in August 1984. 

In October of the same year, Rönnskär’s environmental manager made a new on-site visit to see how the material was handled. No full-scale reprocessing had then yet begun; on the other hand, trials with 500 kilos of items had given positive results. This second visit was also attended by a representative of the Chilean Health Authority in Santiago. It was decided to wait with the second delivery until there were positive results on a larger scale. In October 1984, Boliden received word from Promel that full-scale reprocessing had begun and that they were now waiting for the next delivery. A second shipment was sent off in November 1984 and a third and final shipment in July 1985. In the time between the second and third shipments, Boliden paid another visit to Promel and was able to establish that reprocessing of the material had begun. 

The export of waste sludge during 1984-1985 complied with all then applicable laws and regulations and was done under full scrutiny by the relevant authorities in Sweden and Chile. Promel had all the relevant permits for import, storage and processing of the material and Boliden carried out thorough investigations to ensure that the material would be handled appropriately. 

Occurrences after 1985 

With the completion of the delivery of the waste sludge in 1985, the relation between Boliden and Promel ceased. Long afterwards, Boliden became aware that Promel subsequently interrupted the reprocessing of the wetland sludge and its other operations at the plant and left the waste sludge and other residual products in the area. Furthermore, it has emerged that the Chilean authorities allowed and participated in the construction of residential areas right next to Promel’s facility. Despite the fact that the Chilean authorities were thus aware that Promel did not dispose of either the wetland sludge or other residual products from the company’s previous operations in a responsible manner, no special precautionary measures were taken. 

During the latter half of the 1990’s, suspicions arose that people in the residential areas next to Promel’s facility in Arica were exposed to e.g. lead and arsenic. The general perception was that dust from the waste sludge had spread with the wind and polluted the immediate area around Promel’s plant. Only when this had received general attention, specifically in 1998, did the Chilean authorities ensure that the waste sludge was moved out into the desert outside Arica for safe storage and that the former storage site was decontaminated. The decontamination of other parts of Promels defunct facility was not completed until around 2010. 

In the same year as the relocation of the waste sludge was carried out, Boliden became aware that the waste sludge exported to Promel many years earlier was suspected to have given a rise in health problems among residents in the vicinity of Promel’s former facility. Boliden offered on several occasions to make the company’s expertise available to assist the authorities in Arica, but the offer was never used.

Legal proceedings in Chile have in recent years established that Promel and the Arica Health Authority have acted negligently and are responsible for the damages that the court has considered to have arisen as a result of deficiencies in the handling of the waste sludge. Damages have also been paid to a large number of affected individuals.

For its own part, Boliden has carried out extensive investigative work both internally and with the help of independent external experts to clarify the facts discussed above. The overall assessment is that Boliden took all reasonable investigative and precautionary measures when exporting the wetland sludge and cannot be held responsible for the shortcomings in the subsequent handling of the material. 

In 2013, the company Arica Victims KB initiated legal proceedings against Boliden in Skellefteå District Court on behalf of more than 800 private individuals from Arica who claim to have been exposed to arsenic exposure due to the waste sludge. Boliden has denied that the company acted negligently and on this basis would be liable for damages. Furthermore, the independent experts hired by Boliden have carried out thorough scientific studies, which strongly argue that there is no connection between the waste sludge and the exposure to arsenic that private individuals believe they have been exposed to.

Published on Boliden’s home page:

Statement by Klas Nilsson, Director Group Communications, Boliden

Published after Court of Appeal decision in the Arica Victims vs. Boliden case.

Translated by Zeb Holmberg