February 19, 2007
APETAC *** Global Community Monitor**** Greenpeace
Bucket Brigade detects high levels of carcinogenic benzene in Southern Veracruz
Air samples taken by community bucket brigades showed alarming levels of toxic substances in the populations of Minatitlan, Coatzacoalcos and Mundo Nuevo according to the Ecological Producers Association of Tatexco (APETAC) in conjunction with the NGO Global Community Monitor based in San Francisco, the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada as well as the organizations Environment and Development and Greenpeace México.
These groups are working together to measure the atsmopheric emissions of contaminants through bucket sampling methods approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The bucket brigaders in Southern Veracruz are members of Apetac, residents of Mundo Nuevo and other communities in the municipalities of Coatzacoalcos, Minatitlan and surroundings. Numerous installations owned by both Pemex and private companies are located in this region, the petrochemical corridor of Southern Veracruz, .
The contaminants found in largest quantity are also highly toxic: Benzene levels were 130 times higher than the maximun approved by the US EPA and 6 times higher the levels approved by the American Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The samples were analysed by Columbia Analytica Services, Inc, a laboratory located in Simi Valley California that is EPA certified.
Styrene, another contaminant identified, is known to cause leukemia in workers and exceeded the long-term exposure level permitted by the State of Texas. Carbon Disulfide was also detected - found in quantities 7 times higher than the Texas long-term exposure level. This substance is associated with birth defects and liver and kidney damage.
Based on the results found, Apetac is intensifying its community training efforts in order to increase the number of ‘bucketers’ able to gather information on pollution in the Coatzacoalcos-Minatitlan petrochemical corridor. The collection of air samples through the straightforward and relatively low-cost bucket method, offers communities more detailed information on the sources of contaminating emissions. In a region plagued by some of the highest cancer rates in Mexico, this better equips them to demand that Pemex and the private companies operating there clean up their production processes
On February 17 and 18th Apetac, in conjunction with Global Community Monitor, the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto and the Mexican organizations Environment and Greenpeace conducted a ‘bucket brigade’ workshop involvingmore communities in Southern Veracruz.
“The high benzene level in the sample explains the high cancer rates in Southern Veracruz and demonstrates clearly the negative impact that the petrochemical industry has on human health. Benzene is one of the most toxic chemicals and a known cause of cancer. According to the EPA benzene is a Class A carcinogen, which means that it is among the 10 worst,” said Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor, an international NGO that trains neighbors next to dirty industry how to take their own air samples. “The most important thing is that the communities are now armed with their own atmospheric lie-detectors with which to demand that industry cleans up its act”.
The analysis of the grave air pollution that affects the zone and compromises the health or local residents is backed up by a recent Veracruz Ministry of Health epidemiological and environmental study carried out through the Mexican National Institute of Public Health. This study revealed high levels of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals like dioxins, cadmium, lead and arsenic due to industrial use of hydrocarbons.
“Now the Department of Health of Veracruz State and the Municipal President of Nanchital are recognizing the high levels of air contamination. The Municipal President of Nanchital indicates that 96% of workers in the municipality suffer from respiratory probmes at a level far higher than the state and national average, as well as a high cancer rate” stated Isaul Rodriguez from Apetac.
Lorenzo Bozada of the organization Environment and Development, an ecologist dedicated to the study of the environment in Coatzacoalcos signalled: “The work carred out through the bucket project has contributed in a significant matter to recognition of the high pollution levels in the region.The high levels of benze and toluene registered in the air of Mundo Nuevo manifest once more the dangers that have serious impacts for local health. These pollutants are added to the long list of substances detected in the soil and water of the region including dioxins, Biphenyl polychlorides, lindano?? and other compounds. The question is why allow people from this region to die? How many more tests do we require in order that the authorities take care of the environment and of health. They must urgently implement practices that reduce these industrial emissions.”
“It is significant that through such simple methods as the bucket, the communities of the region become informed as to when and where they are being poisoned and can proceed to inform the authorities. We are promoting a rapid clean-up of industrial emissions through a new environmental responsibility law”, indicated Marisa Jacott, coordinator of the toxics campaing for Greenpeace Mexico.
Anna Zalik, of the Faculty of Environmental Studies of York University in Toronto, Canada stressed that privatization of the industry is not the answer to the industrial emission problems in the region. “The experience of countries like Nigeria and Ecuador indicates that private oil and gas companes are hardly a guarantee of cleaner practices. On the contrary, the practices of Royal Dutch Shell and other private operators in Nigeria (until the Mexican expropriation of the foreign owned industry in the 1930s Shell operated in Mexico as the company El Aguila) are characterized by environmental contamination and human rights violations of the populations that live next to industrial installations. The solution is not the privatization of industry but rather effective regulation. To guarantee this regulation, local populations have to take control through community monitoring.”
The organizations are continuing to document the pollution caused by the petrochemical plants employing the bucket method and demanding environmental responsibility of contaminating plants including those owne by Pemex and private operators in the region. “Emissions need to be eliminated via the substitution of toxic substances and the adoption of clean industrial processes. This will allow Pemex to become a truly clean and sustainable industry for all Mexicans. It is necessary that Pemex channels the required resources to adequate maintenance and halt the sub-contracting and enrichment of ‘remediating’ (clean-up) companies that are involved only in green-washing and make millions in doing so” declared Isaúl Rodríguez of Apetac.
More information: APETAC, with Gonzalo Rodríguez Cano at the number: 01- (52) 921- 2480160 in Ixhuatlán del Sureste, Veracruz; Lorenzo Bozada, Environment and Development at the number: 01-(52) 921-2138381 en Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz; Anna Zalik at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at the University of York in Canada at 001-416-736-2100 ext. 22622 or 001-647-8304052 in Toronto; Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor, at the number 001-415-8454705 en San Francisco, California, or at www.gcmonitor.org; Greenpeace with Cecilia Navarro at the number 01 (52) 5530-2165 ext. 112 o 220, or at the cel number (52) 044 55 5172 9869 in Mexico City or at www.greenpeace.org.mx.