September 6, 2018 / 4:02 PM / 14 days ago

Chilean state energy firm's workers threaten strike over pollution claims

(Reuters) - Workers at Chilean state energy company ENAP on Thursday threatened a nationwide strike after the government said the company’s facility on the central coastline was responsible for an industrial gas leak in August that led to more than 300 people seeking medical treatment.

Nolberto Diaz, president of the ENAP workers’ federation, speaking to journalists in the industrial zone of Quintero, 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Santiago, said other companies were responsible for the “toxic cloud” and accused the government of making unfounded claims.

The gas leak, in Quintero, is one in a series of environmental incidents in recent years that have affected local residents and caused the government to issue warnings and fines to responsible companies.

The latest leak, which caused more than 300 people to seek medical treatment for nausea and vomiting, brought a swift government response, with President Sebastian Pinera and his environment minister visiting the community to promise longer-term measures to clamp down on pollution.

The Chilean environmental inspectorate (SMA) said on Wednesday night that it had conducted a two-week investigation and would bring charges against ENAP for environmental flaws in its liquid industrial waste treatment process in the maritime terminal it operates.

Shortly after the SMA report was released, ENAP Vice President Gonzalo de la Carrera resigned.

ENAP has repeatedly rejected accusations that it was the culprit.

“The company will invoke all the legal actions at its disposal to demonstrate that it has no connection to the accusations,” it said in a statement.

Union president Diaz said he was putting staff in facilities across the country on notice for a potential strike.

“What is happening here is political maneuvering and the throwing up of a smoke screen to avoid identifying those who are really responsible for this toxic cloud,” he said.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Antonio de la Jara; writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky

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