How toxic waste poisoned Arica in Chile? | DW Documentary

How toxic waste poisoned Arica in Chile? | DW Documentary
In the 1980s, Swedish company Boliden shipped toxic waste to Chile. This had devastating consequences for the local population. In 2018, those affected sued to finally hold the company accountable.

When mining company Boliden shipped its toxic waste from Sweden to Chile in 1984, there was an agreement that the waste would be properly processed. But a huge pile of it was dumped on the outskirts of the desert city of Arica. Years later, many locals developed cancer, and children were born with birth defects.

Lars Edman was born in Chile and grew up in the Swedish city of Skellefteå, where the mining company was founded. The film he codirected in 2009, “Toxic Playground”, first brought attention to the disaster, leading to the lawsuit against Boliden nearly a decade later.

The lawsuit is the focus of this film, in which subjects from “Toxic Playground” reappear. They include Jocelyn, a young girl at the time of the first film, who later named her first child after the filmmakers. Rolf Svedberg, who as the former head of Boliden’s environmental department was partly responsible for shipping the toxic waste, also reappears. He had traveled to Arica with the filmmakers to face up to the consequences of his decision. During the trial, he finds himself in an awkward position. Boliden wants him to testify on behalf of the company, but he also appears in the plaintiffs’ evidence, which includes excerpts from “Toxic Playground”.

[Music] foreign
[Music]
what do you think it is I don’t know I’m sorry
but there’s lots of arsenic trioxide around here yeah arsenic foreign
[Music]
this is the cemetery
foreign she’s buried here I believe her death was caused by all
the Arsenic and blood we have here
I still ask myself why I was never allowed to see her medical records why
is that I wasn’t even allowed to take a picture
of her she lost her hair due to the chemotherapy and was completely bald
every time I wanted to take a photo of her she said no Mama no she didn’t want
to have her picture taken that way thank you
on her final day she said come with me I said to her later darling really she
asked me I said yes and then I’ll be sleeping next to you she put her head on my shoulder and Drew
her last breath it was like when a baby says Mama for the first time
mama she breathed mama and at that moment I lost her
I’ll never forget that actually
[Music]
[Music] 14 years ago I began retracing the steps
from my hometown in Sweden to my native country Chile and the desert town of arika
or irkenstaden arika the four plots said two places that have
been connected my entire life connected by The Mining Company
[Music]
many people here are six and thousands they say it’s because of the waste
[Music] the waste that’s left over after we’ve finished mining for gold back at home
after we’ve extracted the precious metals from the Oar Irma
build and film we’ve made this film to tell that story [Music]
hello I’m Jocelyn tudeska and next to me is
my first question how do you feel about what your country Sweden has brought
here you mean the toxic waste
okay I think my country is responsible and
should do something to help all of you
in the mid-1980s when Chile was ruled by a military dictatorship bullied and
shipped nearly 20 000 tons of toxic sludge to Eureka in Northern Chile
foreign [Music]
this Lodge contained high levels of arsenic Mercury and leads
to lead and paid the Chilean company promil 1 million euros to dispose of the toxic waste but only a fraction of the
sludge was processed in promo’s furnaces
the rest was simply dumped into a pile on the outskirts of Eureka and forgotten
my order
in the years that followed a densely populated neighborhood emerged right next to it
[Music] em back home but leden is a pillar of
society you might say it helped sustain and provide a living to my community but
what does bolidan have to say about how Swedish mining waste ended up on the other side of the world
You’re simply not interested in a fair portrayal of this issue or of bullying
as a company that’s not true we describe the leading
as an important company that’s done a lot for the community here
today and the situation [Music]
I don’t think that’s fair to the people who work for the company today
[Music] while working on this film I eventually
came into contact with one of bolidan’s former directors Rolf svedberg was one of those
responsible for shipping the toxic sludge to Eureka [Music]
he returned to Eureka because he wanted to see with his own eyes the consequences of his decision
where it says k-15 foreign
[Music] did you hear about the young man who
died of a tumor in his head he was also poisoned no one ever told him what was going on
the doctors in Santiago didn’t say anything because they said it would just upset the people here
and ECG
ten-year-old children have to take these three months and the doctors say that they’re insulin
resistant I don’t understand what’s Happening Here there are so many drugs and examinations
I don’t understand this
[Music]
this is Rolf he doesn’t speak Spanish
she had to have surgery because of the toxic waste extra nipples
grew on her here that’s why she had surgery
if she got pregnant all of these nipples would have produced milk that’s why they had to be removed
and it is it your fault
no I wouldn’t say that but I feel terribly sad about this
and very very angry if I’d made a different decision none of
this material would ever have been sent here not Material
foreign [Music]
and we talked for quite a while he explained the deal to us I remember
that he was very emotionally affected after visiting the area and talking to the young people there
after that experience he said that politen has to address the Damage Done to the people there
for me it was a question of justice and human rights
Rodrigo and I have known each other for 14 years he’s from Eureka and is an
anthropologist when I first met him he had begun working with the people affected by the
toxic waste from Sweden a dog today he’s probably the person who
knows the most about the waste scandal in Eureka in Chile both the Chilean
State and promo the company that received the waste were convicted in court and a small group of victims
received compensation for the damage they suffered
has never been taken to court

[Music]
for the Target who leading has avoided commenting on the Eureka case whenever possible
[Music] they probably assume the case has been
forgotten
legal representative I’m calling because of the exports of
toxic mining waste in the mid-1980s to Chile I assume you’re familiar with that
I’ve been looking into this case for a while together with some colleagues from Sweden Chile and the US and we’ve
prepared a lawsuit against bolidan
[Music]
[Music]
cancer cancer malformation’s bone and joint pain the waste that bleed and
shipped to Chile in the 1980s is still causing serious harm today
800 people from a poor community in the desert of Northern Chile have launched a
claim against a Swedish company
[Music]
it feels good to see that there are people who are pursuing the matter in a way that we as filmmakers aren’t able to
do foreign the court case is the result of four
years of preparation which began after the release of a documentary film has the report showed children played in
the pile of toxic waste which was full of arsenic lead and Mercury the waste came from Sweden and bullieden none of
this would have happened if the waste had stayed in Sweden [Music]
we were struck by how symbolic how representative it was of cases of this
type there are many many situations like this
around the world where typically multinational corporations based in developed countries do things overseas
that they would never dream about doing in their own country [Music]
Luis Gordon Lewis Gordon is the founder of an American non-profit organization
backed by private donors that provides legal support to environmental cases around the world he and a team of
Swedish lawyers watched our film yarika
thank you
we need to relate to establish for each one of you the proof
the link between the substance and your illnesses this is very crucial for the
coming of fire in Sweden if you cannot establish the name we have no case
foreign this was the case I dreamed of when I
was in law school to represent the weak against the mighty
this is the upside to the left turn here’s this in here
it’s flattened out
this is the cityof the place where bolidian’s waste was kept until 1998
when Chilean authorities instructed promel to move the waste about a kilometer away but for 14 years before
that the sludge was located next to a residential area
the people here say that by that time toxic dust had spread across the entire
area
problem still exists before we were talking about when the waste was moved
in 1998 and when it arrived here in 1985 but the waste is still here it’s
unbelievable when you watch your film it’s hard to grasp how close the houses actually are
and nobody there knew anything
nobody knew what it was awesome the wind blows from here straight over there
and there weren’t even any walls that were built later when we were kids we used to come here to play it was easy to get inside
the children would here what were some of the things they would do specifically
there were piles where kids would play in the dirt some of them built castles with the mud
so mixed up Jocelyn is one of the many children who grew up in this neighborhood
the first time I met her she was 10 years old I lived with her family when I
was in Eureka
foreign
live over there
okay because I’m pregnant my baby is sharing
my blood are you suffering from trauma from lead or and arsenic
but now you’re going to have a new member of the family my only wish is that the baby is born healthy
[Music]
I know that 8 000 people in all were tested in 2010 out of 8 000 samples
6600 were examined by a lab in Santiago and arsenic was confirmed in some of
them so in those 6600 samples arsenic poisoning was confirmed in 12.9 percent
of them which is approximately 800 persons see
yes about 800.
people who are already part of the lawsuit are just a minority of the local residents 825 people out of a group of
15 000 or 18 000.
it’s still possible to join a new group of claimants we can add people who have suffered harm even though the case is
already before the court in Sweden if you have arsenic levels of 30 or more you can join the lawsuit
this is a court case you might win or we might lose just like in any lawsuit
thousands of tons of toxic waste were stored here it was contaminated with 14 different heavy metals we’ve presented
the case if you’re dealing with a huge company it
has a great deal of power in Europe
being given the opportunity in a Swedish Court that’s already a success even
without knowing what will come of it [Music]
oh I lost you Lars you’re responsible for launching the biggest lawsuit we’ve ever had here really
come on Welcome Home garage thank you so this is our home for eight
weeks [Music] watch out damn polluters we’re coming
for you foreign
[Music]
I’m a lawyer representing bolidan in this case
we know fairly well what they’ll say we’ve been exchanging Arguments for several years now it’s been a long
journey my name is class Nielsen head of
communications
our standpoint is that we have a responsibility to clarify what happened support the claims with facts so that
everything is on the table it’s an emotional case an important case for many people including so we have to get
to the bottom of this and get closer to the truth it won’t necessarily be the
most spectacular truth but it should be the full truth
foreign slog the case is the first of its kind
in Sweden both sides have submitted thousands of pages documenting the various investigations and the evidence
[Music]
the hearing will begin in case t1012-13 between the arika plaintiffs
and bolidan mineral a b both sides have brought in Witnesses and
scientists from all over the world there are experts on Chilean law meteorologists toxicologists soil
experts chemists metallurgists politicians and former employees and
directors
the plaintiffs from Eureka will present experts who will support the claim that toxic levels of arsenic were found in
their urine and that it originates from bullied and smelter sludge
I am a professor at Chapman University in California
in my expert opinion the smelter sludge is a clear and significant source of
arsenic in the area to discount it as a source of arsenic it takes a tremendous
stretch of imagination when I first heard from one of the
lawyers that the bulletin waste had 17 percent arsenic I didn’t believe it
[Music]
I’ve never heard anything like that a pile of waste that close to a city
with that high of arsenic concentration
tell your children that their father’s going to die
he was my reason for everything and they took him from me
this is we have plaintiffs here as well the 2011
study showed that there are high levels of arsenic here
the woman who lived in the house with the bars she sold the house and died of
cancer Dani tikona lived next door she had an aggressive cancer in her head and
died too she died yes and the wife of her son had a baby who died but her son
doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it or hear anything about the contamination and another neighbor Marissa Pena had
stomach cancer the woman who bought her house had a tumor on her face and the man across from her also had cancer and
then there’s so many cases oh yes it seems like everyone here and Mario she had ovarian
cancer by the time she died the cancer had spread everywhere then there’s Mrs
Yaya who also died of cancer it started in her uterus and spread then there’s
Mrs Teresa’s husband who also died of cancer he had lung cancer and skin cancer
and then mauro’s father [Music]
foreign what’s the health situation like in other parts of arika the area near the
disposal site is very striking not only compared to the rest of America but to all of Chile
when we started our research in 2005 we didn’t find higher rates of cancer
but today there are cases in almost every family in the areas near the
disposal site the rate of cancer is much much higher than in the rest of Chile
listening to him was very interesting he paints a picture of what he sees as the
situation in the region but as so often I don’t believe his account holds up as
evident it could be that in 1998 when people became aware that a big pile of
potentially hazardous materials were stored there they began to see it as the cause for all sorts of things it became
an explanation for all sorts of things
so how many people saw [Music]
the test melanarika arika and bolidan are a world
apart like two worlds that never meet the reality of what is happening on the
other side of the world seems far far away
[Music]
hey Joan mean foreign
and visited Chile when the sludge was being sold he died in 2008 but often talked about
how they he and his bosses knew that the waste would not be handled properly in Chile the case haunted him for the rest
of his life
my father spent his entire working life then in his last years he was dragged
into the sale okay
so even in the mid-1980s there were people who doubted that the sludge would
be handled safely in Chile honor cardin’s father Martin Lindstrom appears on rolf’s fedberg’s photo from
Eureka oh yes that’s my father
definitely [Music]
say that the company because of its visits to Eureka took greater
precautions than they were required to and that it was impossible to foresee that people would be exposed to the
waste management
hindsight and foresight are two different things there’s an elegant English phrase
hindsight bias which describes a psychological phenomenon where we as human beings when we think about an
event in hindsight tend to believe that it was much more predictable than it really was
people in this town won’t even dare to think that bolidan may have done anything wrong the only thing my father
said to that effect was we understood that they wouldn’t take care of the
material properly he never said I understood it but I don’t know what he meant by we maybe
only he felt that way or maybe there was some kind of consensus among the staff but they’d never have Dad speak about it
openly
after from Martin Martin Lindstrom passed away several years ago and Anna
Karin can’t find anything in her father’s notebooks that refers to the regrets her father expressed there’s
nothing that could be used as evidence in a courtroom
[Music] how old was he
12. I just want to add that
I want Justice to be done my son was killed
who killed your son they sent the toxic material here and
knew exactly what they were doing well we have no further questions
any questions on your side I know your honor the opposing party has no questions the
hearing is over now
we’ve been here for almost two months and I dare say that this was belieden’s
plan this is what happens when big multinational corporations are accused
of causing damage with their activities huge sums are spent on Experts and
Consultants to produce hundreds of pages worth of reports all with the goal of
obscuring what is evident I believe and hope that this court has the ability to
see through all that thank you thank you
[Music]
bullied and claims that the plaintiff suffered no damages and if they did it’s
not the result of their waste poliden doesn’t even describe it as waste it’s material of negative value
a negative
they also say that if belieden as the Eureka side claims has contributed to a
humanitarian catastrophe then this was something the company could never have predicted
[Music]
[Music]
and you of course it’s emotional seven years of
work boils down to a single minute of 11 A.M
[Music] no
Harry from [Music]
okay here we go okay the verdict yeah
[Music] I need to talk to the people here what’s the verdict
[Music]
um [Music]
[Music] thank you [Music]
um of course we’re very disappointed we hoped for a different outcome there are
many many people in the city of araka who stayed up all night their night
hello movies it’s not fair it’s not fair you know they ruined our lives and now
they’re not even taking responsibility for it
I have no idea what we can do now this proves nothing all that it proves is
that money talks and they have plenty of that
laughs
we’re sorry we raised your hopes I also want to ask for your forgiveness
you don’t have to do that Rodrigo we’re very grateful for all the work you have
done I know you thought that you would win we all thought we would win
but now I’m in shock I can hardly move
we didn’t stand a chance
during this proceeding while Eden’s role and the material from runs care have
been thoroughly scrutinized the conclusion is unequivocal I call on the residents of arika to try
to accept the results of the investigation and this trial
the Swedish Court decided to apply Chilean law so the statute of
limitations hadn’t expired but the verdict states that there is no proven connection between bullied and toxic
waste and the Arsenic found in people’s urine despite the fact that the court
says bullied and acted negligently it states that this is not relevant because a level of 30 micrograms of arsenic per
liter of urine does not represent harm instead the court set a new level for
damages at 100 micrograms which is what bulliedin had asked for villator
foreign
of course do not agree with the verdict but they also say that the court has
made an important error in Chile the Supreme Court decided that
19 micrograms of arsenic per liter of urine represents harm which the Swedish
Court did not take into consideration the lawyers are convinced that they can
win on appeal um
foreign
[Music]
yes I’m sorry
it didn’t work the court now decided to apply Swedish
law to the case it’s the statute of limitations
I can’t believe it they dismissed it due to the statute of limitations and didn’t consider anything else they took the
easy way out
got away with it because they did nothing all this time they didn’t act in a timely manner and so they avoided
taking responsibility
you can bury toxic waste and your liability ends as soon as it’s in the ground then in 10 years it’s no longer
your problem the children affected by bolidan’s toxic waste have their claims barred by the
statute of limitations before they’re even born
foreign
to accept that justice has been done
students the court should have told the whole truth but now that the court has ruled
that the statute of limitations has passed the truth never even got a full hearing
so we will never know what the justice system believes about bulletin’s responsibility for what happened in
Eureka for decimal
we should claim our rights as Citizens it’s not our fault they got money from
the government to bring that toxic waste that contaminated Our Lives we have to join forces and fight for justice
[Applause] [Music] foreign
[Music]
foreign [Music]
.

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