Three people, two men and a woman, stand outside in a semi-circle smiling at the camera.

Mitigating concerns through community collaboration

Sierra Gorda is a small town located in the Atacama Desert in Chile with a population of around 1,000 people. Three mining companies operate in the area, including BHP’s Spence copper mine, which is located 10 kilometres from Sierra Gorda. 

With the combined activities of three mining operations, some cumulative impacts are generated, particularly in relation to air quality. 

Over the years, the local community has raised concerns about air quality, particularly between May and September when the air quality worsens. These concerns have been raised across the industry and each mining company responds according to its own procedures.

Spence is proactively working with the community to mitigate their concerns and reduce emissions. 

One of the results is an Air Quality and Community Participation Strategy, which is focused on three specific areas: 

  • ‘Zero dust’ community: Local and global companies were challenged to develop proposals for mitigating or controlling particulate matter with 31 proposals received and seven shortlisted. A jury comprising representatives from the Municipality of Sierra Gorda, the community and Spence selected three finalists with an international company selected as the preferred supplier. The proposal has been promoted at the local level with authorities and community members and is due to be completed in 2022. 
  • Perception survey and emissions inventory: In October 2021, a survey of the Sierra Gorda community was undertaken receiving 210 responses. The objective of the survey was to understand community perceptions around the sources of particulate material emissions. Measurements of particulate material emissions were undertaken at locations throughout the town and the results were presented to the community in November 2021 to help address community concerns.
  • Social Investment Fund in Air Quality - ‘Mission: reduce emission’: to promote community participation, the community was encouraged to contribute their own ideas to solving the air quality issues. Spence contributed US$200,000 to the fund with the winning idea - a plaza in a vacant lot – to be constructed in 2022. 

Although guided by the Spence business, the strategy has been implemented through collaboration with local authorities, community leaders and the local community.