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Chile’s Codelco says it will close Ventanas smelter

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SANTIAGO — The board of Chilean state-owned Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, agreed on Friday to start a process to close its troubled Ventanas smelter, the company said in a statement.

Workers at Codelco had threatened to take action, including a strike, if the board did not invest to upgrade the facility following an environmental incident that sickened dozens of people.

The mining company stopped the smelter to complete maintenance and operational adjustments ordered by the environmental regulator after dozens of people fell ill with symptoms of intoxication in the area where the smelter and other industries operate. The smelter is located in a saturated industrial area on the country’s central coast.

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“The board of directors decided to begin the process of closing the Ventanas,” said the union source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The source added that the company guaranteed the relocation of the 350 workers who would be affected by the decision.

The unionized workers have insisted that Ventanas be fitted with some capsules that retain gases at a cost of $53 million in order to continue carrying out its operations under environmental compliance.

Mining Minister Marcela Hernando, however, told congress this week that a complete upgrade of the unit could be as costly as a new smelter. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Alexander Villegas; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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