Environmental Costs of Buenavista del Cobre Spill Estimated at $133.7 Million

MEXICO CITY, Mexico

The estimated cost of environmental damage from the copper sulfate spill at a mine operated by Grupo Mexico in Sonora State last August is over $133.7 million USD, according to Mexico's Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa).

The Institute for Ecology and Climate Change, which is part of Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resource (SEMARNAT), came up with the estimate. Profepa head Guillermo Haro Bélchez said the number was based on preliminary reports of the damage caused to water, flora, fauna, and wildlife, as well as information on water quality from the Federal Commission for Protection Against Sanitary Risk (COFEPRIS) and the National Forest Commission (Conafor) on ecological effects.

Sonora State Governor Guillermo Padrés Elías had previously put the cost of the spill at some $61.3 million USD.

Haro Bélchez said the environmental damage has short, medium, and long term effects, but the full extent will not be known until more time has passed.

Grupo Mexico must permanently monitor river pollution, damage to land, livestock conditions, and the atmosphere, he said.

National Water Commission (Conagua) Director David Korenfeld said recently that Grupo Mexico had been illegally using potable water for four years -- between 1999 and 2002 -- for its copper extraction processes in this mine.

In 1999, Grupo Mexico was awarded a 10-year concession for 1.7 billion cubic meters of water; that concession was revoked in 2002. Then, in 2002 and 2005, it received two new concessions for approximately 28 million cubic meters of water from the San Pedro and Bacanuchi Rivers.

René Luna Sugich, director of the Sonora State Water Commission (CEA), recently warned that the spill could contaminate water supply to the Sonora State capital, Hermosillo, if the contaminated water being held in El Molinito Dam leaks into the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Dam, which supplies the city. Conagua is now studying the likelihood of this occurring.

An Interministerial Commission on the spill has said water and meat in the seven municipalities affected by the spill is safe to consume.

The commission has detailed 240 security measures with which Grupo Mexico must comply or face fines of nearly $27,000 USD for each item it does not implement.

The mine, which is among the world's largest copper mines in terms of reserves, has resumed operations.

On August 6th, some 40,000 cubic meters of sulfuric acid from the mine had spilled into the Sonora River, affecting drinking water supply to 20,000 people in seven towns.

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