Grupo Mexico Spill Sparks Scrutiny of $150 Million Cleanup

Mexico is sending federal officials to Sonora state to oversee Grupo Mexico SAB’s $150 million cleanup of a copper mine spill that the government says contaminated the water supplies of at least 24,000 people.

The special commission of environmental and agriculture ministry officials will monitor the company’s pledge to mop up the worst chemical discharge in Mexico’s mining industry, which occurred Aug. 6 in the northern state that borders Arizona.

Pressure on Grupo Mexico rose today as a committee of lawmakers from the lower house of the Mexican Congress said the accident endangered human lives. The mining and railroad company controlled by billionaire German Larrea should establish a development fund for Sonora with 5 billion pesos ($378 million), the lawmakers said in a report.

Grupo Mexico and its Buenavista del Cobre mine have “put at risk human life, the environment and the region’s economic development,” according to the report.

Grupo Mexico rose 0.4 percent to 46.85 pesos at the close in Mexico City.

The Mexico City-based company said last week it would create a $150 million trust after its Buenavista del Cobre operation dumped 11 million gallons of copper sulfate solution into two Sonora rivers. Industrias Bachoco SAB de CV and Ford Motor Co. operate plants in Hermosillo, south of the contaminated waterways.

Rain Blamed

The company initially said the chemical spill from the copper mine that turned waters reddish-orange stemmed from heavy rains that caused containment ponds to overflow.

The government rejected that claim, while the nation’s environmental prosecutor filed a criminal complaint against the company. On Sept. 1, the company said defective pipe seals also contributed to the spill.

The spill of copper sulfate and heavy metals contaminated drinking water for communities near the mine in Cananea and resulted in the temporary closing of schools, according to Sonora’s civil protection agency.

Grupo Mexico said Sept. 4 that Buenavista’s output remained stable after the environmental prosecution agency Profepa closed part of the mine, which the company says contains the world’s largest copper reserves. The stoppage only affected portions of the mine under construction for future operations, it said.

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