Tiny El Salvador needs mining but worries about water contamination

The government of El Salvador is warning that the future large-scale development of the gold and silver Cerro Blanco mine in southern Guatemala will greatly endanger the quality of water found in the Lempa River, which supplies water not only to Guatemala but also to Honduras and El Salvador.

Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Vice-President of El Salvador, was quoted by Portal Minero as saying that he feared the mining development would seriously contaminate the Lempa with heavy metals and cyanide, making it impossible to make the water drinkable.

Owned by Entre Mares de Guatemala – a subsidiary of Canadian Goldcorp — the Cerro Blanco mine is located in Asuncion Mita in southwestern Guatemala, on the high basin of the Lempa River. The Lempa feeds into the Ostúa River, which in turn feeds Lake Metapán in El Salvador. Water from the Lempa is used in hydroelectric projects as well for human consumption, including in 13 municipalities in San Salvador’s metropolitan area.

The possible contamination so worries authorities in El Salvador that the country’s National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (ANDA) is working with its External Relations Ministry as part of a committee seeking solutions. El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, is also exploring diplomatic options with Guatemala, which has authorized the Cerro Blanco project.

A study commissioned by El Salvador’s Centre for the Investigation of Investments and Commerce (CEICOM), found high levels of arsenic, lithium, fluoride and boron in waters around the Cerro Blanco mine.

With no legal protection to potable water and the second highest levels of deforestation in Latin America, El Salvador’s water situation is quite difficult, concludes the study.

“This first evaluation, when gold and silver extraction hasn’t even started, shows us that when extraction begins, the levels of heavy metals will increase, particularly in winter,” said the study’s author, Cidia Cortes, an environmental biologist with CEICOM. “The eventual impact on the Lempa River is imminent.”

However, Entre Mares de Guatemala said in a written statement that  “as part of sustainable mining, Cerro Blanco’s operations are transparent, responsible and mindful of the environment. Additionally, the project is subject to national laws and international parameters.”

The company also said that in its own auditable environmental assessment of the project, it would apply the highest national and international mining requirements and standards. Furthermore, Entre Mares’ parent company, Goldcorp, was the first company in the world to have one of its mines, Marigold, in Nevada, be certified by the International Cyanide Management Code for the Gold Mining Industry. Such certification is given only after the safe handling and storage of cyanide in the mining process has been verified.

Despite being the smallest country in Central America, El Salvador has the third largest economy, with a per capita income that is roughly two-thirds that of Costa Rica and Panama, but more than double that of Nicaragua.

Photo: City of San Miguel, El Salvador, Wikipedia


With the contribution of Suzanne Soto, owner of Si! Corporate Communications, a Greater Toronto Area company providing public relations services in both English and Spanish.