Before the construction of a greenfield pulp mill such as the new UPM Paso de los Toros mill can commence, legislation in Uruguay requires an environmental and social impact assessment to be carried out. When assessing the impacts of the mill, UPM and external experts have utilised extensive data on the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the UPM Fray Bentos pulp mill, systematically gathered for over 15 years.
Based on this information, Uruguayan environmental authorities have a wide experience in assessing and controlling the pulp industry, and know how to interpret the data. One of UPM’s main external partners in environmental monitoring has been the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU).
“Our cooperation with UPM began already in 2006 with the development of our laboratories and the installation of an air quality station in Fray Bentos, and analysing water quality samples from the Uruguay River. Our work on the Paso de los Toros project has been greatly facilitated by our previous experience, as all the methods and requirements for monitoring and data analysis have been similar to Fray Bentos,” says Elina Ordoqui, Director of Environment and the Fray Bentos Unit at LATU.
Baseline study provides additional data
The impact assessment concluded that the new mill will not have any negative impacts to human health, living conditions, urban structure and land use, cultural environment, wildlife and conservation sites, soil, bedrocks or groundwater. Any potential impacts are manageable by implementing identified mitigation measures. The application of European Union Best Available Techniques (BAT) ensures the best possible environmental performance.
In parallel with the assessment, a more comprehensive environmental baseline study was carried out to collect systematic data on the environment. Its purpose is to show that the initial assessments are correct and to verify conditions after the mill starts operating. During operation, compliance is verified with continuous environmental monitoring.
“In Uruguay, the entire process is closely followed by authorities and has a very specific set of legal requirements that must be met with. We use an approved environmental monitoring plan to build up data for the baseline study until the mill starts operation. The data is collected from the same sampling points before and after start-up to allow for comparison,” says Gervasio González, Senior Environmental Manager at UPM.
He points out that the collected data is transparently available in real time, and automatic air and water quality stations will be in use in Paso de los Toros.
The latest technology allows for a more continuous way of monitoring the water quality of the Río Negro River that is new also to LATU, when compared to the Fray Bentos mill, Ordoqui adds.
Constant monitoring and communication
González notes that in addition to environmental monitoring, also operations inside the mill are subject to constant monitoring.
“Following all relevant parametres – including effluent discharge, emissions to air and waste produced by the mill – allows us to check that all permit limits are complied with and that the assumptions we made in the environmental impact assessment were correct.”
Another important aspect of environmental performance is the transparency of communications with the surrounding community. For example, UPM is required to participate in follow-up commission meetings chaired by authorities from the Ministry of Environment, together with local NGOs and institutions.
“Besides other general communications channels, we have used this forum to exchange news about upcoming activities on the mill site and explain to the community what’s happening in each phase of the project,” González concludes.
Text: Timo Nykänen