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Nando Times

Arsenic-laden runoff contaminates 3 Amazon river tributaries

By STAN LEHMAN, Associated Press

SAO PAULO, Brazil (January 17, 2001 9:12 a.m. EST - Arsenic-laden runoff from a mining operation has contaminated three small Amazon river tributaries and has put thousands of people at risk, officials said.

Arsenic from a now-defunct manganese processing plant seeped into the underground springs that feed the tributaries around the city of Santana, 1,640 miles north of Sao Paulo, Wagner Costa of the Amapa state Environmental Affairs Department said Tuesday.

Though the contamination likely began in the early 1970s, it was detected only last year after reports of arsenic poisoning, Costa said.

"We know for sure that people and the environment have been contaminated. We just don't know the exact dimensions of the problem," Costa said by phone from his office Macapa, the state capital.

No arsenic-related deaths have been reported, although 98 of 100 people examined by health officials in July has some form of poisoning, Costa said.

Costa blamed the contamination on poorly built basins at the processing plant run by the Icomi mining company. The mine was shut down in 1997.

Repeated calls to Icomi were unanswered. The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper quoted a company director as saying the contamination could also have been caused by the many brick and charcoal factories in the region.

Arsenic poisoning symptoms include skin rashes, respiratory problems, headaches and the premature birth of deformed babies.

-- Rachel Gibson (, January 17, 2001

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