Chilean regulators file charges against state-run ENAP over Quintero pollution crisis

FILE PHOTO: The entrance of the national oil company ENAP is seen in Concon, Chile January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile´s top environmental regulator on Thursday filed charges against state energy company ENAP over allegations its Quintero port facilities emitted air pollution that may have sickened hundreds during an incident in 2018.

The Environmental Superintendent (SMA) said recent studies linked high levels of air contaminants to the company´s operations in Quintero at a time when it was offloading a shipment of heavy Iranian crude oil. At the time, hundreds of people in the port town reported nausea, headaches and vomiting.

ENAP did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The state energy company has previously denied any connection between the delivery of the Iranian crude and the toxic fallout.

Environmental activists have long labeled the town of Quintero and its surroundings a “sacrifice zone” for the successive pollution episodes that have caused public health emergencies.

The coastal port city is home to coal-burning power plants, an oil refinery, and a copper smelter, some of which operate very close to residential areas.

The SMA said in a statement that the company had eluded regulators by failing to inform them of their activities and use of potentially high-risk and closely regulated chemicals. The infractions continued during the SMA´s earlier investigation of the incident, the agency said.

The regulator said some of the seven charges it filed against ENAP are serious enough to lead to the revocation of the company´s environmental permits at Quintero. It has given the state energy company 10 days to provide the agency with a compliance plan or 15 days to contest the charges.

ENAP is the main oil refiner in Chile, which imports nearly all the fuel it consumes.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; editing by Jonathan Oatis