A huge pulp mill, UPM, which has been at the heart of a several years’ controversy between Uruguay and Argentina, does not contaminate revealed Uruguay’s Foreign Affairs minister Luis Almagro before the Uruguayan parliament.
“The results of the joint monitoring will say the obvious: UPM does not contaminate, as was established in the ruling from The Hague International Court of Justice”, said Almagro during a long presentation on relations with Argentina before the Parliament Standing Committee where he was summoned to explain the latest trade restrictions imposed by the government of President Cristina Fernandez.
Argentina has systematically denied to release the four reports from international labs, arguing that is disagrees with the criteria to measure and assess the temperature of the effluents from the UPM (former Botnia) pulp mill, a huge undertaking for Uruguay but which Argentina has questioned from the very start.
“It is not true that the (Uruguayan) government ignores the results of the joint environmental monitoring of the plant”, said Almagro replying to a lawmaker who asked for the reports last November but never received a reply. The four reports are from overseas labs to double check the results from a joint monitoring agreed with Argentina.
“Uruguay’s Environment Office has been checking the functioning of the pulp mill plant since its very beginning, and they were confirmed overseas saying the UPM complex does not contaminate”, underlined Almagro.
On 28 July 2010 Presidents Jose Mujica and Cristina Fernandez agreed to set up a Bi-national Scientific Committee for the “joint monitoring of the UPM-Botnia plant” as well as of the urban centres which empty their effluents into the River Uruguay that also acts as a natural border between the neighbouring countries and the use of its waters is jointly managed since 1975.
So far nine tests have been made, the last of which in late January, and as the previous ones measured the effluents unloaded by UPM into the River Uruguay, as well as on the opposite side in Argentina where the Gualeguaychú River joins the River Uruguay.
The Uruguayan Environment Office on several occasions has reported that effectively the UPM monitoring has proved “normal” and these are the same samples which the Bi-national Joint Scientific Committee has sent to Canada for double checking and which the Administrative Committee of the River Uruguay, CARU, refuses to make public or has not released.
When Uruguay approved the Finland financed Botnia project eight years ago, Argentina objected saying it had not been consulted on the use of the River Uruguay waters and furthermore the pulp mill would contaminate.
The long dispute, which included blocking a bi-national bridge for years, was finally solved at the International Court of Justice which delivered a balanced ruling saying Uruguay should have consulted more with Argentine previously, but there was no evidence of possible pollution.
Finally in 2010 a bilateral agreement was reached with the joint monitoring scheme and Argentine scientists were allowed inside the pulp mill to take samples of effluents. However when the samples showed effectively that there was no pollution, Argentine vetoed the release of the results by CARU.
Furthermore the samples from the Argentine coast next to the city of Gualeguaychú show strong contamination. The issue is politically highly sensitive for Argentina since during the long years of conflict the government encouraged Gualeguaychú to become the hard core resistance to the whole pulp mill project on the Uruguayan coast.