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Officials at Chile's ENAP to face charges over toxic fumes - prosecutor

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean prosecutors will press charges against six executives of state energy company ENAP in relation to noxious fumes that caused hundreds to seek hospital treatment in 2018, the prosecutors’ office confirmed to Reuters on Saturday.

The highest profile incident took place in August of last year in the industrial port city of Quintero, where a strong smell in the air caused local residents to complain of nausea, headaches and vomiting.

The local prosecutor’s office said it would soon press charges against officials from ENAP’s refineries and port facilities for violating a Chilean law that protects human health.

Local prosecutors said they would also pursue charges against an ENAP contractor, according to a statement on Friday.

Cristian Muga, an attorney who represents ENAP workers, told Reuters the prosecutor´s decision was expected, but unjustified.

“The ENAP executives and workers are innocent of the charges against them,” Muga said. “It´s not fair to hold them responsible for a situation that has been going on for years and that is the result of many activities taking place on the Bay.”

Environmental activists have long labelled the town of Quintero and its surroundings a “sacrifice zone” for the successive pollution episodes that have caused public health emergencies.

The coastal port city is home to coal-burning power plants, an oil refinery and a copper smelter, some of which operate very near to residential areas.

Chilean prosecutors in late 2018 investigated a potential link between the noxious fumes and ENAP’s transfer of Iranian crude oil between the ports of Talcahuano and Quintero.

The prosecutors office did not comment on the conclusion of that investigation. ENAP has denied any connection between the delivery of the Iranian crude and the toxic fallout.

Activists have ramped up pressure on the government to find the culprit and resolve issues at Quintero and at other so-called “sacrifice zones” ahead of the COP25 United Nations climate change summit in December, when tens of thousands of environmentalists are expected to visit the Andean nation.

ENAP is the main oil refiner in Chile, which imports nearly all the fuel it consumes.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Chris Reese