No justice for the victims of the toxic spill in Sonora

Five years after the toxic waste spill, Grupo Mexico has yet to repair the environmental and health damages caused in Sonora

No justice for the victims of the toxic spill in Sonora
Grupo Mexico spilled 40 million liters of toxic substances in Sonora back in 2014 - Photo: Amalia Escobar/EL UNIVERSAL
English 12/12/2019 14:46 Mexico City Amalia Escobar Actualizada 14:57
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The spill of 40 million liters of toxic substances in the rivers Bacanuchi and Sonora, caused by the Buenavista del Cobre mine in August 2014, not only generated officially recognized health issues to 381 persons: at least another 1,000 are suffering from the mayhem of the environmental tragedy, according to a visit of federal officials to the area.

In addition, they revealed that a second spill was registered a month after the catastrophe and for that reason, the inhabitants of the basin have been drinking water contaminated with lead, mercury, and arsenic without their knowledge.

Sent by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the head of the Health Institute Juan Ferrer, and the head of the Federal Commission for the Attention Against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris), José Alonso Novelo, visited the Ures General Hospital and the clinic of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) to begin an immediate care plan for the victims.

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During this inspection, Joel López Villagómez, head of Sonora’s Epidemiological and Environmental Surveillance Unit (UVEAS) informed the federal officials that there are at least another 1,000 cases of people with health issues in addition to the 381 officially recognized.

The conditions, he added, are skin affections that are directed to the local health center due to UNVEAS’s inability to take care of the patients.

After the spill of toxic substances like copper, arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, chromium, iron, manganese, and lead, among others, that took place on August 6, 2014; over 23,000 inhabitants of seven municipalities have been affected.

The substances spilled by the mine affiliated to Grupo Mexico contaminated water for human consumption contained in wells, destroyed crops, killed stock, caused serious damages to human health and the fall of productive activities in the municipalities of Arizpe, Banámichi, San Felipe de Jesús, Huépac, Baviácora, Aconchi, and Ures.

Hence, on September 15 of that year, Grupo México created a trust with the federal government to help those affected and to repair the damage caused in the contaminated area, which they eliminated on February 2, 2017, without it being finished and without repairing the damages.

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Among the actions they would do with that trust was the construction of the UVEAS that would operate until 2029, but the works were abandoned.

Grupo Mexico gave away the unfinished works in bailment for 20 years to the National Guard, in coordination with the Interior Ministry in Sonora and the Ures Municipal Presidency.

In addition, last August 6, the convention between Cofepris and Grupo Mexico expired; it was signed during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration to give care to the 381 persons recognized as affected by the spill and who were left in limbo.

The lack of care, according to inhabitants of the Sonora River, has been a constant since the tragedy took place. “It’s the truth; here, they forget about the people who suffer. There has not been noble ears nor heart to help poor people; the rich go away. Children drink water; those kids are life; they deserve life. They are humans and are the ones who will replace us,” asserts Manuel Casillas Cruz, an inhabitant of Ures.

In this scenario, the officials determined that they will prepare a special area in the Ures General Hospital, while others agencies like Profepa, Semarnat, and Conagua are carrying out the corresponding investigations about Grupo Mexico.

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A second spill
Mexico’s government, they explained, is also investigating a second spill that took place between September 16 and 18, 2014, about which the population was nor warned and that neither the company nor the federal government of that time created an agreement to repair the environmental and health damages.

Juan Ferrer said the government must make sure the agreement made with Grupo Mexico in 2014 be fulfilled, “Our task is for people to have adequate health services; the hospital has regular conditions and we will improve it.”

For her part, Reina Castro Longoria, and environmentalist and researcher of the University of Sonora (Unison) considered it was very important for the government to recognize the truth because although a detailed work is being carried out to take care of those affected, “the government must not pay for what an irresponsible businessman did.”

However, the water pollution continues damaging human health since the metals were dragged by rains into the El Molinito dam in Hermosillo, which has a million inhabitants.

In that sense, José Alonso Novelo revealed that last August 7, after the conclusion of the convention between authorities from the previous administration and the company, 60 samplings of water in wells and homes have been performed.

“Certainly, the waters are contaminated by heavy metals and that must be fixed. Treatment plants and ongoing studies are needed to have certainty about the issue. We are going to take samples in March, near drought season because results vary; heavy metals are more concentrated while they dilute in rain season,” he explained.

Since 2014, he said, the analytic laboratory of Cofepris has not performed any water survey and only the studies made by Grupo Mexico have been considered.

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AMLO takes a stance
Yesterday, in his morning news conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asserted that he will visit the region this Thursday and that Víctor Manuel Toledo, minister of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) will present a report about the mining pollution in the area.

Asked about whether the federal government is planning to prosecute Grupo Mexico, the President explained that the government will not proceed until there is a verdict by the agency.

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