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Pulp mills. From this side of the river

Pulp mills. From this side of the river

By Ricardo Carrere

The Dr. Despite all the titles he holds, his "notes" stand out for their abundance of epithets and adjectives rather than for their scientific seriousness.

Pulp mills. A note from this side of the river

On January 10, 2006, Dr. Mario R. Feliz, "Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Principal Investigator at CICBA, Institute of Physicochemical Research (INIFTA), Faculty of Exact Sciences-UNLP" published "A couple of notes from the other side of the river ”.

In them he makes a fiery defense of the installation of the two pulp mills in Uruguay. Despite all the titles he holds, his "notes" stand out for their abundance of epithets and adjectives rather than for their scientific seriousness. Given that some promoters of the pulp mills, both in Uruguay and Argentina, are using the supposedly learned words of this scientist as the irrefutable truth, I consider it necessary to make some comments to them.


Your note already begins with an error - not a major one compared to the many that follow. In effect, he says that “Most of us Argentines are witnessing, as surprised witnesses, the war unleashed against the installation of a couple of cellulose pulp production plants in the Eastern Republic [sic], which are already raising their chimneys on the coasts of the Uruguay River. " It is not true that the chimneys of "a couple of plants" already "stand" over the Uruguay River, since for now only one (Botnia's) is under construction, while Ence's does not exist due to simple reason that the company has not yet started construction. With this, it is already showing, in the best of cases, its ignorance of the situation and in the worst of cases its intention to show the installation of the plants as a fait accompli.

Dr. Mario R. Féliz says that “In our country there are about 10 cellulose production plants that discharge their effluents into the Paraná River from a production of no less than 850,000 annual tons of cellulose pulp.

These companies: Celulosa Campana and Gral. Bermúdez, Papelera del Plata, Wixel, Campanita, Papel Prensa de San Pedro, Iby in Entre Ríos, Andino sobre Santa Fe, Alto Paraná S.A., Piray and Papel Misiones in Misiones; they have polluted the Paraná for years. ”.

What is the message that the unsuspecting reader receives? That all these plants are the same, that they all pollute and that therefore neither the Argentine government, nor that of Entre Ríos, nor the people of Entre Ríos have the right to complain. However, Dr. Mario R. Feliz hides several parts of the truth. For example - and it is not a minor issue - it hides the fact that only some of these plants use elemental chlorine bleaching (the most polluting), while one uses chlorine dioxide and others use completely chlorine-free processes. (the least polluting).

In this sense, the journalist from Page 12 Pedro Lipcovich shows a much greater seriousness than that of Dr. Féliz, doing a plant-by-plant analysis. Lipcovich says that several of those plants “do not register notable objections from an environmental point of view. In all cases this can be explained by the technical characteristics of its production. Massuh, Papel Prensa, Productos Pulpa Moldeada y Papelera del NOA manufacture pulp for inferior quality paper (packaging, newspaper printing, etc.), which allows them to use less rigorous bleaching procedures that do not require the use of chlorine, a toxic factor fundamental. Of the others, all except Alto Paraná use elemental chlorine, the most polluting bleaching technology ”. (It is interesting to note that there are discrepancies between the companies listed by Dr. Féliz and by Lipcovich, which is showing the need to study this issue further). Either way, I recommend everyone, and Dr. Féliz in particular, to read Lipcovich's excellent article at:
http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-62645-2006-02-06.html

It is important to stop at the company that uses chlorine dioxide instead of elemental chlorine: Alto Paraná. In effect, this is the most modern pulp mill in Argentina, owned by the Chilean Arauco and which uses the same bleaching system (ECF or with chlorine dioxide) that the Finnish Botnia and the Spanish Ence would use in Uruguay. If Dr. Féliz took the trouble to know the reality - a fundamental principle of science - he could inform himself about the environmental, social and economic impacts of this modern company in Misiones. In order not to go into detail, I recommend that you read what I wrote about it last year (when I toured the affected area) and then do the same as I did: see, smell, and ask. My observations can be seen in:
http://www.guayubira.org.uy/celulosa/informeMisión.html

It is also important to mention that Alto Paraná produces 350,000 tons of cellulose per year (and pollutes), while the joint production of Botnia and Ence (with the same bleaching process as Alto Paraná) would be 1,500,000 tons. This issue of scale is not a minor issue, but Dr. Féliz chooses to ignore it.

Returning to the polluting plants, Dr. Féliz also forgets to mention that Celulosa Argentina in Capitán Bermúdez is currently owned by the Uruguayan company FANAPEL. Nor does it mention that FANAPEL plans to convert its plants (in Uruguay and Argentina) to the totally chlorine-free bleaching system (TCF).

The foregoing is in no way intended to justify the contamination of the Paraná river by the pulp industry. However, it is important to point out that most of them were installed –except for Alto Paraná- when environmental issues did not enter into the calculations of the industrialist vision of the time. Today the situation has changed and all these industries - and the new ones - must be required to meet the highest standards of environmental care. And this is one of the few things on which I agree with Dr. Féliz: the Argentine government - like the Uruguayan government in the case of the FANAPEL factory in Juan Lacaze and PAMER in Mercedes - has been disregarded in its obligation to demand the total modernization of existing polluting plants.

Under the subtitle "The industry of the XIX is accommodated to the XXI", the first note of Dr. Féliz appeals to a series of arguments that have little to do with science and even less with the modern concept of "sustainable development". There he tells us that without the terrible pollution that the industry subjected us to for more than 100 years, “We would not have passed the stone age! There would be no tractors, no trains, no airplanes, no computers, no nylon stockings [by God, what a tragedy], no books ... Without paper, we wouldn't have books! We would live, eternally, the life of the good savage. " Dr. Féliz forgets that science - true science - discovered belatedly that these industrial processes affected the health of people and the environment and that there are technologies that ensure that we can continue to have paper - and many other things - without the need to pollute .

However, Dr. Féliz appeals to verbal terrorism saying: “Is it possible to imagine what life would be like today without such industries? If we were to eliminate them today, in a single act, billions of millions would die of hunger, of cold, for lack of medicines, etc. In a last-ditch effort, let's imagine what would happen if metals, plastics, chemicals, and papers suddenly and magically vanished.

What would the 15 million inhabitants of Bs. As. Do if their houses collapsed, buses and trucks disappeared, their synthetic fiber clothes, their books,… disappeared? "

With all that broadside, he finally reaches the point he wanted to get: "To demand with arrogance, intolerance, shouting like spoiled children, that the paper plants of Uruguay should not be built, is at least" sovereign "stupidity." It seems that Dr. Féliz is unaware that Uruguay is not building a "paper plant", but two pulp plants for export. If I were like Dr. Féliz, I would describe this error as "sovereign stupidity", but fortunately I am not.

By the way, Dr. Féliz takes the opportunity to pass an advertisement for the nuclear industry: “You cannot fall into the hypocrisy of… condemning core-electric production (Italy) while importing energy from French nuclear plants. In this field, ultra-green attitudes, and their repercussion in the press, have led to an anti-nuclear environment. This is a frankly dire position. " He adds that “The current price of oil and its disappearance in the not too distant future, require having alternative sources of energy. The use of solar energy or wind energy cannot replace thermal energy. Proclaiming these as possible alternatives is the fruit of ignorance. At the present time the only viable alternative is nuclear energy. Instead of pursuing it, we must promote research and development, the application of the best production techniques and the management of waste. "

Dr. Féliz does not seem to be keeping up with either the advances in science or technology. Indeed, at the moment Sweden - which is not characterized by ignorance - is developing a policy to completely abandon oil in 15 years, without building any nuclear power plant. A committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, automakers, government officials and others will report to parliament in the coming months. In other words, Sweden is contradicting - in practice - Dr. Féliz's assertions that it would be impossible to live without oil or nuclear energy. Information is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1704937,00.html

In the section "Pulp plants and the environment," Dr. Féliz goes into the area in which he supposedly has the most knowledge. After an introduction where he explains the process, he says that “In the pasta manufacturing stage, the wood chips are cooked with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium sulfide (Na2S). This stage generates volatile substances (they easily form vapors) that contain sulfur [hydrogen sulfide (H2S) that produces the smell of rotten eggs, and mercaptans (CH3SH and CH3SCH3)] and that can pollute the air (bad odors and acid rain produced by sulfur dioxide (SO2)]. In modern Kraft mills these vapors and liquids are collected and burned, eliminating all odor. "

The above is false. The most modern Kraft mills do not eliminate odor. It would be important for Dr. Féliz to inform specifically which mill or mills he is referring to, but he does not. I can say that I have personally visited areas where modern kraft plants (with ECF system) are installed and that in all of them I have had to endure the same rotten egg smell. Examples: 1) the Arauco pulp mill in Valdivia, Chile 2) the Arauco mill in Misiones, Argentina 3) the Aracruz mill in Porto Alegre, Brazil 4) the Aracruz mill in Espirito Santo, Brazil 5) the Mondi in Richards Bay, South Africa 6) Advance Agro's plant in Prachinburi, Thailand. On my trip to Finland I could not personally verify the smell for the simple reason that all the plants had been closed by the employers as a result of a conflict with their workers. However, I spoke with the people who live in the vicinity of three modern pulp mills (Botnia in Joutseno, Stora Enso in Imatra and UPM in Lappeenranta) and in all cases they informed me that there are odors and that they are very strong at least once a month. My report of that trip to Finland is available at:
http://www.guayubira.org.uy/celulosa/Finlandia.html

Regarding the issue of whitewashing, Dr. Féliz once again incurred several falsehoods. Indeed, he says that "In old plants (the Argentine ones) the oxidation of lignin (destruction) is carried out with Cl2 (chlorine gas)". As can be seen in the Lipcovich article mentioned above, this is false, since those that use gaseous chlorine are Celulosa Puerto Piray (Misiones), Celulosa Argentina (Santa Fe), Papelera del Tucumán (Tucumán) and Ledesma (Jujuy) . The rest use totally chlorine-free technology (Mission Paper, Misiones, Newsprint, Province of Buenos Aires, Massuh, Province of Buenos Aires, Molded Pulp Products, Río Negro and Papelera del NOA, Jujuy) with the sole exception of Alto Paraná in Missions, which uses chlorine dioxide.

Regarding the issue of the use of chlorine dioxide, Dr. Féliz states that “This, too, is a gas that is produced in situ by the reaction of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) with sodium chlorate (NaClO3). Such a process produces a much smaller amount of active chlorine (active chlorine free process, ECF for its English name) and therefore a smaller amount of organochlorines. This bleaching method is considered in the USA as adequate to reduce the amount of furans, dioxins, etc. in the great lakes at non-dangerous levels. If the pulp is subjected, before this stage, to a pre-delignification treatment with oxygen, the amount of chlorine dioxide required in the bleaching decreases to the point that the contamination by chlorine is negligible. "

The above is the speech of the pulp industry, which unfortunately is not true, as it is confirmed in the hard and concrete reality. In this regard, I transcribe a statement issued by the Guayubira Group on January 18 of this year, which summarizes the conclusions of the "Report of Observations and Recommendations" of the "WWF International Evaluation Mission regarding the controversy of the Sanctuary of Nature and the Carlos Anwandter Ramsar site and CELCO's Valdivia pulp mill ”(1).

Said communiqué states that “Given that said factory operates with the same bleaching system that the planned Botnia and Ence pulp mills in Uruguay would use (with chlorine dioxide, also called ECF by its acronym in English), Guayubira considers that the conclusions of this report constitute a very important contribution to demonstrate that the affirmations of the companies about the non-contamination of their processes are false.

Like what has happened in Uruguay, the report says that in Valdivia “CELCO's pulp mill was presented at the beginning as a clean, low-risk and non-polluting project; pollution problems
air that followed and the deterioration of the Sanctuary represented a shock to public opinion ”.

Regarding the issue of contamination, the report says that “The bleaching stage is perhaps the most problematic in environmental terms in a bleached kraft pulp mill. Large amounts of chemicals are produced and used and it is usually the only part of the plant that generates a permanent flow of effluents ”. Both Botnia and Ence argue that the bleaching method they would use (ECF) is of the "latest generation", and that it will not result in the emission of dioxins or furans.

In this regard, the WWF report contradicts these statements when it says that “ECF laundering has been the dominant methodology used in the industry for the last 10-15 years, but it is definitely not a state-of-the-art or next-generation technology and practice in terms of which refers to ensuring the protection of the environment. The decision to use ECF bleaching in modern pulp mills is often based on outdated knowledge and assumptions regarding pulp quality, as was the case at CELCO's Valdivia mill. In fact, since the introduction of totally chlorine-free (TCF) bleaching in the early 1990s, technical advances have allowed the same quality and brightness of the pulp to be achieved as with chlorine dioxide bleaching ”.

The report goes on to say that “In relation to ECF technology, it is necessary to mention that all bleaching chemicals are powerful oxidants and consequently pose a threat to workers and those who live near the plant. When a full range of characteristics is compared, oxygen-based chemicals are generally less hazardous than chlorine dioxide (ClO2), a compound that can have acute and chronic toxic effects, including eye, nasal and nasal irritation. throat, cough, shortness of breath (possibly late), pulmonary edema, possible chronic bronchitis and asthma. All of the above, together with chloroform and other similar by-products of ECF bleaching, make up the hazard profile of chlorine dioxide ”.


Given that the two projected plants would be installed near Fray Bentos (Botnia, just 4 kilometers away and Ence 12 kilometers away), it is very important to know that this report states that “In addition to the dangers in the workplace itself, chlorine dioxide it can present a very significant risk to communities living near a plant. Although until recently the pulp companies claimed that this part of the process did not generate dioxins, recent studies found dioxins in residues from the production of chlorine dioxide in three pulp mills in Sweden ”.

Like what is currently happening in Uruguay, “For more than 10 years, cellulose companies have argued that it is not possible to find dioxins in the ECF process, due to the improvement of bleaching methods and processes. However, a recent study published in June 2005 shows increases in dioxin concentration in the vicinity of ECF cellulose mills between 1979 and 2000 in the Baltic Sea. According to the research group, the indicators point to continued contamination rather than seepage from the sediments, which was a common hypothesis. The study links the higher levels of dioxins to chlorine dioxide bleaching as a possible source. The results of that study have shaken the industry as a whole and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the country's forestry industry have commissioned a new research program in this regard ”. However, they have not "shaken" a hair to Botnia or Ence, who continue to ensure that their ECF system is "clean" and that it does not generate dioxins.

Also in Finland ECF laundering is being questioned. In this regard, the report mentions that “The European pulp industry is very interested in research on catalytic bleaching with oxygen gas that is carried out at the Technical University of Helsinki. According to researcher Tuula Lehtimaa, the industry is facing pressure to switch to TCF laundering. In this sense, catalytic bleaching with oxygen gases would offer the advantages of traditional TCF technology, while being even more cost efficient than ECF ”. However, no Botnia official appears to have known of these investigations, which are being carried out in the capital of his own country.

Added to this is the opinion of a group of biologists and biochemists graduated from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of the Republic (Uruguay), who in August 2005 published an "Open letter to the national government" (2). In it they expressed their "resounding rejection of the installation of more pulp plants in the national territory", assuring "that there will be contamination with the installation of pulp plants that ENCE and Botnia want to undertake in our territory".

The WWF report on the Valdivia plant in Chile confirms the seriousness of the proposals of the group of academics who signed the letter. Despite CELCO's promises and despite the Chilean government's control mechanisms, the contamination of the factory not only existed but was devastating. The Guayubira Group hopes that the corresponding State agencies will take the findings of this report seriously into account to prevent a similar disaster from repeating here. "

(1) See WWF's full report at:
http://www.guayubira.org.uy/celulosa/informe_wwf_rio_cruces.pdf(2) See Open Letter and signatories at:
http://www.guayubira.org.uy/celulosa/egresados.html

Added to the above is the scientific finding that the Valdivia pulp mill generates dioxins. In this regard, we transcribe a statement dated November 8, 2005 from RAPAL-Uruguay (Pesticide Action Network), which under the title "Pulp mills that use chlorine dioxide emit dioxins and furans: the Chilean evidence" says:

“In February 2004 it began to operate in a pulp mill in the province of Valdivia, Chile. 30 kilometers downstream where the plant discharges its effluents is a world-renowned nature sanctuary, a place where thousands of black-necked swans used to stay. A few months after the plant is operating, the swans begin to die. Scientists and people in the area are looking for explanations for these deaths, which are obviously linked to the pulp mill.

It is important to know that the Valdivia pulp mill uses the chlorine dioxide bleaching system with state-of-the-art Finnish technology. In other words, the same system that would be used in the two plants that would be installed on the Uruguay River in Fray Bentos.

The Chilean Agricultural and Livestock Service carried out an analysis of the concentration of dioxins and polychrome furans in tissues of black-necked swans (“Study on the origin of deaths and population decline of waterfowl in the Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary in the province Valdivia ”). This study was carried out by a laboratory in the United States, and the results were released by the Austral University of Chile on April 18, 2005.

The analyzes show the presence of dioxins and polycorated furans. It is worth mentioning that these analyzes were made on the thighs of the swans and not on fatty tissues where it is known that dioxins tend to concentrate on a larger scale. In other words, the levels found of these highly toxic persistent organic substances would have been even higher if they had been analyzed in fatty tissues.

The foregoing is of enormous relevance for the debate in Uruguay about pulp mills. Botnia has repeatedly stated that the chlorine dioxide bleaching process does not generate dioxins or furans. The documented Chilean case shows exactly the opposite. It is time for our government to stop believing in the falsehoods of the companies, accept reality, and take action on it. "

Ignoring reality and new scientific contributions on the matter, Dr. Féliz says at the end of his first note that “If companies use the processes described above (And according to the information provided by the Botnia company about its plants in Finland, they do it) nothing can be reproached for the Uruguayan project ”.

The above deserves several comments: 1) the ECF process has been shown to have - in real life, not in theory - important impacts and the enormous scale of these undertakings will only aggravate them 2) Dr. Féliz limits himself to "believing ”In what the Botnia company says, which does not seem very scientific 3) the Botnia company has 5 plants in Finland: three are ECF, one is TCF and another is ECF / TCF 4) the Ence company has 3 plants in Spain: two are ECF and one TCF 5) the obvious question would be: Why in Uruguay would they apply the ECF and not the TCF? Is it simply because it is cheaper?

In her second note (from February 3), Dr. Féliz already turns to a frankly aggressive and insulting tone, which disqualifies her as worthy of analysis. As you should know, adjectivation is not part of the scientific method, nor is it an ethical way to conduct a debate. Referring to those who disagree with his position as "unfounded, foolish and reactionary opposition", describing himself with a "liminal cry", comparing the current fight against pulp mills with fascism and with Hitler, attacking technicians like " ecological trout ", to say that" it is reasonable to think that the Greenpeace green refers to the color of dollars more than the environment "does not match the quality (according to his own description) of" Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Principal Investigator of CICBA, Institute of Physicochemical Research (INIFTA), Faculty of Exact Sciences-UNLP ”.

* February 23, 2006 -Ricardo Carrere is a member of the Guayubira Group of Uruguay


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