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Cellulose Factory Celulosa Aurauco S.A., Valdivia, Chile


The construction of a pulp and paper factory, Celulosa Aurauco S.A., using highly toxic chemicals next to the riverbed of the Cruces River, which is the essential water source for the whole valley and the nearby RAMSAR Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary, caused an immediate wave of protests from local communities and environmental associations, struggling to safeguard the Protected Areas extraordinary biodiversity.

A report contracted by the Chilean government to the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia found that the companys pollution was responsible for rapid ecological change in the wetlands. The population of Black-necked Swans did not recover after 2004. An international commission with the World Wildlife Fund ratified the findings. Scientists on the pay of CELCO disputed the causality between the cellulose plant pollution and the swan population decline but the courts decision of July 2013 has clarified the facts.

The Citizen Movement Action Group for the Swans, the Lonko Council of Pikunwijimapu, the Tralco Indigenous Community and the Steel Workers Trade Union Association of Valdivia filed lawsuits in 2004: one was a criminal investigation at the Prosecutor’s Office in Valdivia and the other a legal petition to the Council of State Defence.

In July 2013 a civil court in Valdivia found CELCO guilty for pollution in the River Cruces, events that had happened after the factory opened in 2004.

Lucio Cuenca of OLCA said on 31 July 2013 that with this court decision, CELCO should close down the factory: "Con este categórico fallo, Celco debería cerrar su proyecto". After reviewing the eight year fight against Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (Celco) in Valdivia, the pollution in the River Cruces and the death of Black-necked Swans, OLCA celebrated the court decision.

Keywords: water pollution, Protected Areas, wildlife, cellulose production

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Cellulose Factory Celulosa Aurauco S.A., Valdivia, Chile
State or province:X Region Los Lagos
Location of conflict:Valdivia
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Cellulose

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The project envisaged the construction of a factory for wood-processing to produce pulp and paper which, by exploiting pine and eucalyptus plantations, planned to create an estimated 550,000 tons of unbleached Kraft cellulose per year.

The company opted for the Elemental Chlorine Free process (ECF), which uses Chlorine Dioxide for the manufacturing of paper pulp.

Level of Investment:1045000000
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:2004
Company names or state enterprises:Celulosa Arauco S.A. from Chile
Relevant government actors:CONAMA - Chile, Government of Chile, Consejo de Defensa del Estado
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Citizen Movement Action Group for the Swans, Action for the Swans of Valdivia/APC - Acción por los Cisnes, The Lonko Council of Pikunwijimapu, The Tralco Indigenous Community, The Steel Workers Trade Union Association of Valdivia, OLCA - Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales, Valdivia local community, José de la Mariquina local community, Lanco local community, Loncoche local community, Mehuin local community, World Wildlife Fund [WWF], Mehuin Fishermen association

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local scientists/professionals
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
International ejos
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Air pollution, Global warming, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsCarlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary, RAMSAR Site
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Because there has been irreversible damage to the environment and citizens. But their has been succesful curt case 2013 blaming the factory for pollution and death of the Black-necked Swans.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

RAMSAR Convention on wet lands

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Aproximacion Critica al Modelo Forestal Chileno: Impactos de la Produccion de Celulosa. OLCA. 1999

Mehuin, Sustentabilidad y Resistencia. Lecciones de una Comunidad Organizada. OLCA. 1999

Chile: Pulp mill destroy biodiversity and people’s livelihoods. WRM's bulletin Nº 104, March 2006.

Contexto economico y social de las plantaciones forestales en Chile: el caso de la Comuna de Lumaco, region de la Araucania. World Rainforest Movement. 2005

Informe de Observaciones y Recomendaciones, WWF, Chile, 2005

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Final Report of the Consultive Commission RAMSAR, April 2005

Final report of the Chilean Austral University (UACH), April 2005

Celulosa Arauco en Valdivia: El desastre ambiental en el Río Cruces, resultado del modelo forestal chileno, L. Cuenca Berger, OLCA

Lucio Cuenca: "Con este categórico fallo, Celco debería cerrar su proyecto", 31/07/2013

Celulosa Arauco no apelará condena por severo daño ambiental en río Cruces de Valdivia, 22/08/2013

Condenan a Celulosa Arauco por desastre ambiental en Río Cruces de Valdivia el 2004, 27/06/2013

Chile: Pulp mill destroy biodiversity and people’s livelihoods, World Rainforest Movement

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Tragedia de los cisnes de Valdavia Part 2 (Spanish, German Subtitles)

Tragedia de los cisnes de Valdavia Part 1 (Spanish, German subtitles)

Other documents

Black-necked swans in Cruces River Veoverde

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl & Joan Martinez Alier & Talia Waldron
Last update04/01/2016



Black-necked swans in Cruces River