A sad tale of misinformation and failure to take responsibility by Mrs Sue Napier MHA, Liberal member for Bass.
1. The story in brief
This story traces what happened to a very small piece of information about pulp mills that got mangled in the fast track process and Sue Napier’s apparent attempts to use it to advantage.
1. Sue Napier’s misinformed and partial views were published in the Mercury newspaper 25 August, and Examiner newspaper 29 August 2007. She no doubt briefed her Liberal colleagues with the same misinformation.
2. She and the Liberal Party voted in favour of the pulp mill 30 August 2007.
3. Her errors in fact and understanding were pointed out by Chilean Professor Jaramillo in an email to Mrs Napier dated 30 August. Note: Sue Napier had been personally briefed on the Valdivia situation by Professor Jaramillo on his visit to Tasmania at the end of 2006.
4. Her follow up letter (31/8/07) contains no apology for:
- failing to understand the Valdivia situation from a personal briefing given by Prof Jaramillo; or for
- spreading misinformation herself; or for
- her accusation that the story of black necked swans was a scare tactic.
5. Conclusion. Misinformation such as this may well have been identified if public hearings had not been voted down by Liberal and Labor. Our politicians and the Parliamentary fast track process have failed Tasmania.
2. The first letter as it was printed in the Examiner 29 August
‘Getting it right
While I share the difficulty of most concerned people in Tasmania who are trying to discern what is fact and what is fiction as we consider whether a pulp mill is in Tasmania’s best interest, I am amazed at some of the misinformation that is out there.
For example, many still think that effluent from the Valdivia mill in Chile killed black swans.
In May 2005, the Chile Supreme Court, in a five votes to zero decision, found that the Cruces river, the native wetland and sanctuary wasn’t contaminated or threatened by the Valdivia plant, and that the pulp mill did not cause the death of the swans.
The Supreme Court identified that there had been a University of Austral report in 1998, which showed that iron was present in high concentrations in the area. This caused the lilies, which were the food of the black swans to die thus causing any swans that did not leave the area to die from starvation.
Census data over 20 or so years showed that the number of black swans in the area often fluctuated between 800 and 15 000.
While the mill was initially vocally accused of killing the swans, this has now been rejected on science, and the mill is still trying to help protect the sanctuary together with the community.
Sadly emotions and scare tactics often override the science and make it harder for us to make a measured decision.’
Sue Napier MHA Member for Bass.
3. The second letter to the Examiner newspaper published 31 August 2007.
‘Black Swan Deaths
No one should interpret my comments on the black swan issue and the Valdivia Mill (Examiner Letters Aug 29) as support for such a mill and the poor, if not dishonest, management systems at the time in that mill.
It has come to my attention that additional research has been done that identifies that it is possible that the mill has contributed to the demise of the swans and the environment.
Quite rightly, the mill has been closed down a number of times as it failed to meet the required environmental standards.
The case particularly emphasises the need for baseline studies to be done on the environment before a pulp mill begins in the Tamar valley, to avoid such an argument.
The permit conditions and the regulations going through State Parliament will require just that, and will be the toughest for any modern elemental chlorine free mill in the world.’
Sue Napier MHA Member for Bass.
4. Getting it wrong
In neither letter does Napier explain that in June 2005 the pulp mill company CELCO voluntarily closed its pulp mill in the wake of the scandal following the revelation that the university scientific report on which the court acquittal was based had been altered or that CELCO had fabricated the report pretending it was from the university.
Visit The Santiago Times www.tcgnews.com/santiagotimes and for the time it takes to do a keyword search for ‘Celco’ you can jump forward a few years into Tasmania’s pulp mill future as planned by Gunns and our State Government.
Go to The Real World Radio FM www.realworldradio.fm and do a keyword search for ‘Celco’.
5. The ‘additional research’ that prompted the second letter
Here is the additional research that had mysteriously ‘come to her attention’ between her first and second letters.
Dr. Eduardo Jaramillo,
Ph.D Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology
Instituto de Zoología
Facultad de Ciencias
Universidad Austral de Chile Valdivia, Chile
August 30, 2007
Mrs. Sue Napier Liberal Member for Bass Tasmania
Ref.: letter published in the newspaper The Mercury, August 25, 2007
Dear Mrs. Napier,
I send this note to comment on your letter published by the newspaper The Mercury on the last Saturday edition (August 25, 2007). I need to comment and/or clarify the misinformation you give in such a letter. In doing this, I hope you can learn a bit more on the environmental degradation of the wetland of Río Cruces in Valdivia and thus, have better foundations to judge what would be or will be the environmental outcomes of the projected pulp mill for the Launceston’s area. I shall tell you, that I was angry and surprised by the light terms of that letter, especially when I did recall that after the meeting we had in your office, I thought that you had understood the environmental implications that a pulp mill plant has on the aquatic environment.
First at all, I like to tell you, that there are no black swans in our geographic area as you mention in line 11 of your letter; we do have indeed another species of swan, the Black necked swan (Cygnus melancorryphus), a water bird which is a bit larger than the Black swan and whose main breeding site in South America before the year 2004, it used to be the wetland of Río Cruces.
I will not go into law aspects, specifically into your comments on the decision of the Supreme Court of Chile during the late fall of 2005. I will not do that, since law or judicial matters are not my field; remember that I am an aquatic ecologist, and as professionalism and common sense dictate, I shall comment just on my expertise: environmental aspects. Nevertheless, I like to suggest that you search with Google by the following words “Corte Suprema, Río Cruces, JA Varas”; you will find several articles where the comments on that decision are analyzed by the Dean of our Law Faculty, Juan Andrés Varas. My guess is that those analyses (published in “El Mercurio”, the most important newspaper of Chile), will be indeed quite interesting to you (at the end of this note, I enclose that letter sent to “El Mercurio” for your information; hope you will find somebody to translate to English). I like to finish this paragraph by saying that my reasons of no comment on law issues will surely help you to understand why I didn’t comment on that during my lectures in Launceston and Hobart.
Now in relation to the iron’s mention in the third paragraph of your letter. To clearly understand the message of that, it is necessary to discuss several points:
i) YES, you are right; several years ago one of my colleagues prepared the RAMSAR file for the wetland. As such, he put together all the existing data on water quality, for example concentrations of iron. That data showed that this element was important or abundant in the water.
ii) From that time (1998) to late 2003, the plant Egeria densa (the main food of herbivorous water birds in the wetland) flourished in the wetland with a broad spatial distribution and coverage.
iii) In our final report (April 18th, 2005) we never said that Iron coming form the effluent of the pulp mill produced an impact on the wetland; after analyzing a massive amount of data from the monitoring plans of CELCO, we arrived to the conclusion that an excess of Aluminium Sulphate used in the chemical treatment of the sewages coming from the pulp processes induced precipitation of heavy metals (Iron among them) over the leaves of the plant producing its demise (Aluminium Sulphate is used to coagulate an precipitate particles in the pulp mill).
iv) Since the foods of Black necked swans disappeared, swans went into starvation, emaciation and migration off the wetland.
v) Those swans which were not able to migrate died of hemocromatosis or high load of Iron in the liver with damage to hepatic cells.
vi) In conclusion, chemicals coming from the effluent of the pulp mill altered the water chemistry of the wetland resulting in the disappearance of Egeria densa, emigration and death of Black necked swans. This is the main conclusion of the University´s study.
I like to comment now on the census data you mention in the third paragraph of your letter. You write “In fact the census data over 20 years showed that the number of black swans in the area often fluctuated between 800 and 15,000”. Please, take a look to the next graph; it was constructed from the monthly census data gathered by the rangers of CONAF (“CORPORACION NACIONAL FORESTAL”), the governmental Chilean branch in charge of the wetland of Río Cruces (you can cross check data from the web page www.conaf.cl.
You are right, low and high numbers of swans during the period 1987-2006 are in the range numbers you mention. HOWEVER, you can see from the figure below that those numbers are far away from the general statistically calculated trend for the whole set of data and represented by the red heavy line. Moreover, during the years previous to 2004, the monthly population of swans in the wetland was rather stable and around 5000 birds; that number dropped abruptly during the year 2004, 7-8 months after the pulp mill started to produce.
Since in your letter to The Mercury, you relate the food of the swans with those birds (third paragraph), I like to comment the following aspect. At the beginning of the environmental crisis of the wetland, some people argued as follows “Since the main food of Black necked swans is the waterweed Egeria densa, an overpopulation of these herbivorous birds did decimate this aquatic plant”. In other words, the same swans were the cause of the demise of Egeria densa. But lets me ask the following question in two ways: i) why during the year 2004, the swan’s abundances were lower than in other years, when no demise of Egeria was ever observed? and ii) if an overpopulation of swans produced the demise of Egeria densa, why this aquatic plant did not disappeared during the years 1994-1996 when the swan population was close or above 10000 birds (see figure above)?, almost twice the population censed during the period previous to 2004. The above reasoning and data analyses did allow us to reject the hypothesis that swan’s foraging was the cause of the demise of Egeria densa from the wetland.
I must say now that for me and the other colleagues of the University team that prepared the scientific report for CONAMA (“COMISION NACIONAL DEL MEDIO AMBIENTE”), search for truth through the use of the scientific method has been the riding purpose of our academic careers. We publish regularly in indexed journals (just do some search in the ISI Web of Science), we attend national and international conferences and we are devoted to our undergraduate and graduate students. We do research on this topic, not only to know what is going on out there, but also to know the ecological responses of the ecosystem in order to get predictions of how the system is responding to the stressor (changes in water quality). If we learn on that, we will be able to help managers and others to get the basis for future restoration of the ecosystem services up to day affected. In other words, our aims are not only to document in a scientific way the environmental degradation of the wetland but also, try to find solutions talking with everybody, of course also with people from the pulp mill here.
We do have a pulp mill whose production activities have affected and affect the water quality of the wetland of Río Cruces. The aquatic plant (Egeria densa) that disappeared right after the pulp mill started to operate has not recovered within the wetland, neither the population abundances of Black necked swans and herbivorous coots which were also affected. I get more and more data that show the above facts are a true pattern which cannot be denied. Even that, I do still believe that problems can be reasonably fixed and water quality restored to that which occurred before the mill started to operate or that which is characteristic of waters upstream of the mill.
The situation in Tasmania is different; you people there have the opportunity to learn before the eventual construction of a pulp mill there on the environmental changes that happened here; don’t waste that opportunity for the future of that beautiful land. Request and ask for proper baseline studies (which I did not see while I was there), ask for proper evaluations to people with expertise and above all, learn from mistakes.
Hoping to have clarified the misinformation given in your letter, I do offer again (in a modest way) the knowledge I have on the issue discussed above, to help you in getting the basis to do proper judgements on the environmental situation which would result of the projected pulp mill for the Launceston area. In doing that, I am just behaving as any committed member of the scientific community must behave; i.e. to put all his/her expertise on behalf of people everywhere. As you shall know, methods of science are universal and thus, people from everywhere can use it for their own growing and ways to solve problems.
I do apologize if this note has not been written in proper English; remember that English is just my second language.
Dr. Eduardo Jaramillo, Ph.D.,
Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology
Phone no: 56 - 6 – 221649
Instituto de Zoología
Facultad de Ciencias
Universidad Austral de Chile
EL MERCURIO - CARTAS AL DIRECTOR
Santiago de Chile, domingo 5 de junio de 2005
Los cisnes y la Corte Suprema
Con innegable olfato periodístico, la prensa ha cubierto en portada el fallo de la Corte Suprema relacionado con la contaminación del río Cruces y, especialmente, la circunstancia de haberse fundado dicho fallo en un informe técnico atribuido al Centro EULA (Universidad de Concepción), pero que en verdad emanaba de la propia empresa recurrida (Celco).
El revuelo resulta justificable, puesto que no se trata de un mero error de redacción. Al estar fundada la sentencia en dicho informe, se afecta el contenido sustantivo de la resolución, y queda sin valor buena parte de la argumentación de la Corte, que discurre, precisamente, dando peso autoritativo al informe. Además, abre numerosas interrogantes respecto de la forma como se decidió el caso. ¿Se produjo esa falsedad por una acción deliberada de la empresa? ¿Se produjo por una inadvertencia del abogado, que sobreentendió una autoría que la Corte creyó de buena fe? ¿Ocurrió por falta de suficiente estudio por parte de la Primera Sala? ¿O pasó, como se ha indicado, por simple falta de acuciosidad del ministro redactor, no reparada por los demás firmantes? Cualquier alternativa es grave, y requiere una explicación pública satisfactoria.
Sin embargo, la autoría del informe es irrelevante respecto del fondo del asunto. La Corte Suprema fundamenta su resolución rechazando la relación de causa efecto entre la actividad de Celco y el daño al Santuario y, para ello, se basa en el informe realizado por la propia empresa, que afirma que ésta, en vez de arrojar hierro, lo resta de las aguas que usa. Este sería un contraargumento impecable si el estudio de la Universidad Austral imputara la desaparición de los cisnes a los vertidos de hierro de Celco. Pero se trata de un contraargumento para un argumento imaginario. Lo que concluye científicamente el informe de la Universidad Austral solicitado por la Conama es que otros componentes químicos de los desechos emitidos por Celco producen la aglutinación y con ello la precipitación y acumulamiento del hierro naturalmente presente en las aguas del río Cruces, siendo esta precipitación la que causa la muerte de la planta que alimenta a los cisnes. Por tanto, el hecho de que Celco retire hierro de las aguas, aun en caso de ser efectivo, en nada afecta la validez de las conclusiones del estudio de la Universidad Austral.
Esto es grave, porque la posibilidad que tiene la Corte Suprema de apreciar la prueba rendida, conforme a las reglas de la sana crítica, la obliga a respetar las normas de la lógica, del sentido común y del razonamiento científico, y la compele, por consiguiente, a estudiar y entender los informes técnicos sobre los cuales basa su decisión, antes de emitirla.
JUAN ANDRÉS VARAS BRAUN
Decano Facultad de Derecho
Universidad Austral de Chile