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Uruguay Mills: Attack and Counter-Attack

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Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk is attacked by Argentine activists, but gets support from other environmentalist experts.

BY CHRONICLE STAFF

As the governments of Uruguay and Argentina continue their dispute over the environmental effect of paper mills under construction in Uruguay, environmental experts and activists are taking their dispute public.

After Latin Business Chronicle last week published an opinion column by Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, a widely-respected contamination expert, Argentine activist Jorge Daniel Taillant sent a rebuttal.Taillant is executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA). He is also the husband of Argentine Environment Minister Romina Picolotti, who was a former chair of CEDHA.

"ANACHRONISTIC AND FALSE"

"Your article entitled Argentina’s Environmental Hypocrisy, which appeared in the Latin Business Chronicle, not only fails to intelligently understand the issues revolving Botnia’s illegal pulp mill venture in Uruguay, it also, with respect to Argentina’s political stance on its own environmental situation, [is] anachronistic and false," Taillant claims.

In a rebuttal, Dr. Dwernychuk stands by his original assertion. "I firmly stand by my assertions that provided the mill operates according to 'engineering design specifications', the mill will not impact the environment, fisheries or tourism," he writes.

Dwernychuk was one of the expert consultants used by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation in its investigation of the environmental impact of the $1.2 billion pulp factory being built by Finland-based Botnia in the Fray Bentos area near the border to Argentina.  Despite being declared environmentally safe by the IFC and Uruguayan authorities, Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner insists the mill will damage the environment. Kirchner has led an international campaign to stop the construction of the mill and has not stopped Argentine opponents of the mill from blocking key roads between Argentina and Uruguay, resulting in major losses for Uruguay's trade and tourism sectors.

SUPPORT FOR DWERNYCHUK

Dr. Dwernychuk's is not alone in his assessments. Neil McCubbin, who co-authored the IFC report on the Uruguay mills, says the Botnia mills are even better than European BAT standards. "Botnia elected to install more powerful effluent treatment and to operate with tighter in-mill control of atmospheric pollution and effluent generation than BAT," he writes in a letter of support to Dr. Dwernychuk.

Meanwhile, a letter from Argentina's Academy of Engineers sent to President Kirchner in June last year also argues that the Uruguay mills are environmentally safe.

"The environmental parameters that will result from the pulp mills’ operation are within the strict limits of the applicable international standards," the academy said in a document sent Kirchner.  "In accordance, no adverse effects are to be expected on health or biodiversity, and no pollution shall affect Argentine coasts or territory,"

A copy of the document was provided to Latin Business Chronicle by Dr. Dwernychuk. The academy has not responded to several contacts by Latin Business Chronicle to confirm the veracity of the letter. However, also McCubbin refers to the document as valid.

"I also support the comments by the Argentinean Academy of Engineering," he writes in his letter. "Specifically, I agree that suitable monitoring of the final construction and operation of the mill is appropriate."

Botnia is not the only major pulp company building a paper mill in Uruguay. Spain-based Ence is building a $500 million paper mill, while Swedish-Finnish Stora Enso announced in January that it plans to install a $1.2 billion pulp plant in Uruguay over the next eight years. The Botnia investment, the largest foreign investment so far in Uruguay, represents the equivalent of 5.8 percent of the country's GDP, according to a Latin Business Chronicle analysis of the 2007 GDP figure from the IMF.  

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