in one of the worst environmental disasters in Latin America, a dam constructed at a zinc mine and supposed to contain the tailings -- finely ground mining wastes -- gave way leading to tonnes of poisonous sludge winding its way down the Andes and polluting the rivers en route. Known as El Porco, the zinc mine is situated at an altitude of 4100 m and is about 50 km southwest of Potosi.
On August 29 last year, one of the dams, which used to contain 1.47 million tonnes of tailings, failed and dykes which were constructed to restrain the sludge also crashed when the dam breached for the second time.
Ekkehard Jordan from the Heinrich Heine University in Germany, investigating the disaster, said that the toxic mud which contained iron sulphide, lead, zinc, cadmium, copper and arsenic, had polluted five previously clean rivers, killing all the fish. The rainy season which is beginning here now could force the poisoned sludge to flow towards the Pilcomayo River, some 430 km downstream from the mine, into which the five rivers flow.
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