Poisons and Peripheral People - Part III: Industrial and Mining Hazards in the Third World
During the last decade, the adoption of adequate - in some cases, quite minimal - pollution control laws and occupational health standards in the US has spurred the wholesale exodus of many hazardous industries abroad. Productions processes that are illegal in the US are not wanted here, but the products are. Thus while industrial plants and raw materials must be shipped abroad, often production is exported back to industrialized nations.
The absence of government regulations as well as underpaid and undereducated workers make the Third World attractive for the relocation of hazardous industries. Therefore, efforts to gain and enforce environmental and worker safeguards in this country must be accompanied by measures that prevent the export of these industries to unsuspecting communities in the Third World.
The effect of health and environmental protection regulations on international trade are numerous. In 1978, Barry Castleman* summarized them as follows:
- export of jobs from regulating countries;
- shift of international balance of payments in favor of non-regulating countries;
- "export" of environmental destruction to non-regulating countries, in order to produce goods for consumption in the regulating countries;
- "export" of known lethal health hazards to workers and communities in non-regulating nations, in order to produce goods for consumption by the regulating countries;
- weakened competitive position of reputable manufacturers who incur health hazard control costs but compete against less scrupulous companies;
- prolonged use of hazardous substances due to the "subsidy" of these producers by workers and communities not protected by their own governments from known mortal health hazards, and
- aggravated international tension resulting from developing nations' awareness that they are becoming the dumping ground for hazardous exports from industrial nations.
There are only two major deterrents to relocation of hazardous industries to the Third World. The first is the nationalization of multi-national corporation factories by Third World governments. The second is the requirement in some countries that foreign corporations be only minor investors in these operations.
The threat of nationalization is countered in a number of ways: Countries that are pre-disposed to foreign investment are actively sought out. Governments of these countries can be "maintained" or replaced by more favorable ones. The increasing number of military dictatorships in the "free" world since 1945 is in part a reflection of this occurrence. Governments unpopular with foreign corporations (as in Allende's Chile) are overthrown.
Even friendly governments increasingly require a majority holding by nationals in many investments in factories or mines. Many foreign corporations have failed, however, to recognize that this policy can in fact work to their advantage. In many of these cases host governments provide infrastructure and services and are responsible for dealing with labor problems. This policy can also mean that many ventures sponsored by multi-national corporations are increasingly underwritten by the World Bank and the regional development banks in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Private corporations would never be able to get loans from these sources on their own. Furthermore, at least with mining ventures, foreign corporations often make high profits during the initial period of a contract of this kind by skimming the high grade or valuable ores that sit on top of most deposits. This was the case in both the Cerro Colorado Project in Panama and the OK Tedi Project in Papua New Guinea, to cite but two examples. When it comes time to renegotiate the contract, however, a company may no longer be interested in mining the lower quality minerals that rest deeper in the soil, and the government can easily lose its investors.
It has taken a number of years for industrialized countries to discover the toxic effects of certain chemicals and industrial processes and even longer to implement appropriate regulations. Yet even Third World countries that recognize these hazards still endeavor to attract the industries that manufacture them. Why?
Whatever the rationale, the people and communities that are going to be affected are not seen to be as important as the income generated by the relocation of these activities. Certainly, those people encouraging these industries will not be part of those that are affected. "Decision-makers" are frequently of a different ethnic group from the population that will be harmed by relocation. It is this aspect of the relocation of hazardous industries to the Third World that this Cultural Survival Quarterly addresses. The following reviews and case-studies of offending industries in countries throughout the world reveal the magnitude and complexity of the problem.
Arsenic Trioxide (white arsenic) is a highly toxic substance used in the manufacture of pesticides, herbicides, wood preservatives, and soda-lime glass. It occurs naturally in most copper ores and is released during the smelting process; however, most smelters are not designed to recover it.
Since 1940, studies have shown inorganic arsenic to be carcinogenic. In 1975, Akwesasne Notes reported that Giant Yellowknife Gold Mines Ltd. was releasing arsenic, lead, zinc, copper, and cadmium into the air and water.
Deaths were first reported in the area in 1952. Shortly thereafter, a small herd of milk cattle died from drinking contaminated water. A study in the 1950s indicated higher than expected occurrences of nervous disorders, deaths among males, and deaths from respiratory problems. The study did not produce any changes in the operation of the mine.
A 1966 follow-up study confirmed the widespread occurrence of the symptoms of arsenic poisoning - skin irritations, cardiovascular diseases, neuropathologic disorders, and loss of feeling in the limbs. Plant life in the area was contaminated; water was unfit to drink 15 percent of the year (at times containing 44 times the acceptable limits of arsenic). In July and August 1966, the water contained acceptable levels of arsenic only one percent of the time.
The National Cancer Institute reported that from 1950 to 1969, lung cancer mortality in US counties where copper, lead, and zinc smelters and refiners were located was significantly higher than in other counties. In addition to high cancer rates among smelter employees, children living nearby have been found to have high urinary arsenic levels. Soils surrounding smelters within a radius of miles are contaminated and ruined for agriculture. Road dust and playgrounds are likewise contaminated.
In 1975, after considering these known health hazards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed to lower the workplace limit for airborne arsenic from 500 micrograms/m(3) of air to four micrograms/m(3).
By 1976 only the Asarco plant in Tacoma, WA, was still producing arsenic. As of 1979, that smelter was on standby.
Rather than comply with costly safety regulations at its nineteenth century facility, Asarco invested in an arsenic-producing smelter at San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where the government does not have strict safety regulations. In 1976, 89 percent of the arsenic imported to the US came from this Mexican plant. The smelter handles ores with high arsenic levels from Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines, as the Tacoma plant had in the past. It can also process arsenic-containing residues from US smelters.
Between 1975 and 1979, arsenic production at the Mexican plant increased 22 percent; 75 percent of production was exported to the US. Due to OSHA regulations, total US imports of arsenic between 1975 and 1979 increased threefold.
The US also imports arsenic from Namibia. The mining and smelting plant at Tsumeb (30 percent owned by US-based Amax) supplies eight percent of US imports. Today US industry consumes half of the arsenic produced in the world, and demand is increasing. The main reason for this is the increased demand worldwide for pesticides. Many of these pesticides are then exported to the Third World.
During the 1970s, evidence accumulated over the past fifty years led to increased regulations on the production and use of asbestos in industrialized nations. Studies of former asbestos plant workers showed high rates of lung cancer among workers employed even less than one month. Families of workers, exposed only through contaminated clothing, and neighbors of asbestos plants also suffered from higher than expected rates of lung cancer.
In 1972, OSHA gave US asbestos products manufacturers 4 years to reduce the dust levels in their plants from 5 million to 2 million fibers per cubic meter of air. In October 1975, OSHA proposed a level of 500,000 fibers/m(3), and in 1976, a level of 100,000 fibers/m(3) was recommended. Asbestos manufacturers asserted that 65 percent of their processing steps could not meet the 500,000 fibers/m(3) regulations.
Concern for health hazards associated with asbestos products has led to a dramatic decline in usage. Since usage peaked (1973-74), consumption has fallen by 34 percent (1979-80).
Even though asbestos consumption may be falling substantially, imports of asbestos products have increased considerably since 1970. In particular, the dirtier aspects of asbestos product manufacturing are exported and the finished products are imported. Most of these increased imports come from Third World countries that do not even have their own supplies of raw asbestos. What these countries do have is lax worker and environmental safety regulations. For example, in a plant in Agua Prieta, Mexico, dust levels are not registered, the machinery is covered with asbestos dust, workers in parts of the plant do not wear respirators, and dust covers the roadside by the factory where children walk to school.
US tariffs work to encourage the importation of asbestos products manufactured abroad. Mexico, Brazil, Taiwan, and South Korea are "beneficiary countries" under a preferential tariff import system. Some asbestos textiles from these countries enter duty free, and the standard 4 percent duty is levied on the remainder.
Textiles are perhaps the dirtiest asbestos products to manufacture. Prior to 1972, the US exported more asbestos textiles than it imported. In general, asbestos textiles were traded between industrialized countries.
Before 1968, the US imported no asbestos products from Third World countries. By 1977, US imports of asbestos products were far greater than the exports, and more than half of the imports originated in Brazil, Venezuela, Taiwan, Mexico, and Korea. None of these countries has its own deposits of asbestos.
The US is not the only country that imports asbestos products. As domestic production declined after 1973, West German imports more than doubled. Most came from countries where safety standards for workers are virtually non-existent. One German asbestos factory was dismantled and relocated in toto in Cape Town, South Africa.
The following examples indicate some of the changing trends in the international manufacture of asbestos products since OSHA regulations began in 1971.
Brazil - In 1970 Brazil exported 11,000 pounds of asbestos tiles to the US. In 1973 it exported 545,000 pounds.
India - Hindustan Ferodo imports 95 percent of its raw asbestos, mainly from Canada, and until recently from Rhodesia. None of the products manufactured in India that are shipped to other Third World countries include warnings that they may be health hazards.
Latin America - By 1974 Latin America produced 35 percent of the world's asbestos cement. Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico are the major producers, but in the last 10 years new plants have opened in Jamaica and Guatemala. In addition, at least 4 US friction material (e.g., brake linings) producers have established Latin American subsidiaries.
Mauritius - A South African company has opened a factory to produce asbestos parts for hair dryers.
Mexico - NACLA reported that by 1978, Mexico had 23 asbestos plants although there were no asbestos mines in the country. Twenty-one plants have been built since 1965. In 1969, Mexico exported 180 pounds of asbestos products to the US. In 1973 more than 1.2 million pounds were exported, and in 1977, more than 3 million pounds were exported. In 1975, Mexico earned more from foreign factories than from tourism.
Amatex exemplifies the pattern of establishing asbestos manufacturing plants in Mexico. The company initially bought a minority interest in a plant; it then closed one factory in the US and opened two wholly owned subsidiaries in Mexico.
Sweden - Machines from a closed asbestos plant have been sold to China, Poland, and Bulgaria.
Taiwan - In 1970, Taiwan exported 200,000 pounds of asbestos products to the US. By 1973 the figure was 1.1 million pounds. Taiwan has no specific health requirements for asbestos workers.
Venezuela - US asbestos textile imports from Venezuela were negligible prior to 1972, were 173,000 pounds in 1973, and increased seven-fold by 1976-77.
AUSTRALIAN ASBESTOS AND ABORIGINALS
In 1972, a government survey showed asbestos levels at the Barylgil Mine to be 140 times higher than British safe levels of 2 fibers/ml of air. Mine tailings were also found scattered around the area. Tailings are even used for roadside fill and for surfacing school playgrounds.
Aboriginal miners were not told of the health risks associated with their work; their compensation claims were rejected by employers. Aborigines claim that company officials attempt to hide normal working conditions at the mines before health inspectors arrive.
Recently ammonia and arsenic discharged from a fertilizer plant in Goa killed thousands of fish. A year later the contaminated water was used to irrigate paddy fields, thus entering the agricultural food chain. Neighboring companies continue to dump chromium slag into nearby waters.
Two corporations are reportedly polluting Illigan Bay with carbide sludge and mercury waste deposits. Fish caught in the bay contain 325 ppm of mercury, well beyond the 5 ppm maximum level recommended for human consumption. In addition to mercury, vinylchloride monomer (VCM), which causes liver cancer, and other effluents are being dumped in the bay.
In studies published as early as the turn of this century, it has been shown that benzidine workers have disproportionately high rates of cancer of the bladder. Follow-up studies of workers at a single US plant showed that 22 percent of the dye workers developed cancer of the bladder. In Italy, 13 families won a manslaughter case against management due to 132 deaths from confirmed or suspected bladder cancer over the past year resulting from employment in a dye plant.
Today, such countries as Sweden, England, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland do not permit the manufacture of dyes from benzidine. Great Britain, however, which in 1967 prohibited the manufacture of dye intermediaries - including benzidine - still imports benzidine derived dyes today. Such practices encourage the relocation of the dye industry in countries with more lax safety standards.
Until 1976, Allied Chemical produced 75 percent of the benzidine dyes manufactured in the US. That year they discontinued production after it became evident that US manufacturers would be expected to undertake lifetime medical surveillance for all workers. Simultaneously, imports of three digs previously produced by Allied increased five-fold. Romania supplied half of the imports, followed by Poland and India.
The shift of benzidine dye manufacture abroad endangers the health of workers throughout the world. In the Third World, worker health regulations are lax. Dyes produced in these countries have been found to contain 500 ppm free benzidine (compared to 2 ppm for US produced dyes), an indication of hazardous conditions during manufacture. "Direct Black 38" dye imported from Egypt, had 1254 ppm of residual benzidine. These dyes are potentially hazardous to workers in dye-using industries.
Other problems also result. A dyestuff industry in Bombay dumps untreated chemical sewage directly into a river, contaminating the drinking and bath water for downstream residents. The firm is 47 percent Italian owned; but in Italy both benzidine dye manufacture and dumping of this type is against the law.
As many tribal and ethnic groups move away from the use of natural dyes to cheaper, synthetic ones in producing their own clothing, they begin to expose themselves to even greater risks than workers in textile plants where operations are mechanized.
CHEMICAL WASTES - GENERAL
In many countries there are no regulations governing the discharge of chemicals from industrial plants. In attempts to lure industries to their countries, a number of governments have actually stated their desire for the accompanying industrial pollution. In some cases officials from these countries simply do not understand the problems pollution poses. In other instances, they feel that this is the only way their nations can industrialize. They do not understand the reasons industrial polluters are banned from their native countries.
The problems resulting from these shifts are serious. In Shubra el Kheima, Egypt, 40 to 50 industrial plants discharge non-degradable substances into two major agricultural canals. This water is then used to irrigate the land used to grow food for Cairo's residents.
In Colombia's Bay of Cartagena, 50 chemical and petro-chemical companies dump waste into the Bay. Reportedly, only one company has adequate safety standards.
Brazil, however, has some of the most severe industrial pollution problems in Latin America. Cubatao, Sao Paulo, is the site of the largest petrochemical complex in Latin America. The most polluted section of the city is Vila Parisi, a slum of 15,000 surrounded by a fertilizer plant, a steel plant, a cement plant, and a mountain. In May 1981, Jim Brooke reported in the Washington Post that one third of Cubatao children fail to make it through their first year. A recently released study indicates that 8 percent of live births suffer from such abnormalities as spinal problems, missing bones and brain deficiencies. Most birth abnormalities are concentrated in Vila Parisi.
In 1977, pollution monitoring devices were installed in Vila Parisi to determine pollution levels of the 30 factories in the area. After only 18 months the machine was so clogged with residues that it broke down.
Some 2000 Indians live in the town of Chinautla, which is downstream from Guatemala City. Although only eight miles from the capital, these Indians maintain their culture and language. In addition, they produce some of Guatemala's most prized pottery.
Today, however, the river flowing through Chinautla is filled with refuse and raw sewage from the capital's 1.3 million people. Chinautla now reportedly has the highest infant mortality rate in Guatemala.
The machine did however record that the surrounding 50 square mile area was bombarded with 473 tons of carbon dioxide, 182 tons of sulphur, 148 tons of particulate matter, 41 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 31 tons of hydro-carbons daily. More than 1200 particles per cubic meter fall on Vila Parisi residents each day, - twice the levels the WHO says lead to "excess mortality." The figures proved statistically that the atmosphere could not support human life.
The clinic for the city's 15,000 residents recorded 4,400 visits for respiratory illnesses during the first half of 1980 alone. In the entire city, 10,000 emergency calls (one-quarter of the total for one year) were for nose, throat, and lung ailments.
Worldwide concern over the toxic effects of mercury has reduced demand for and increased recycling of the metal. In 1971, the US labelled mercury a hazardous air pollutant and in 1973 proposed standards for mercury ore processing plants. As a result from 1969 to 1976 the number of operating mercury mines declined from 109 to 4. In 1976 imports accounted for 69 percent of domestic consumption. Usually, these imports come from countries with regulations more lax than those in the US.
By 1975, waste from one Canadian chemical company polluted the English and Wabigoon Rivers with mercury. Some 1300 Indians on two remote reserves near Kenora have been affected. The government has warned them not to fish and has brought in supplies from other areas, but the mercury has also contaminated other animals and plants that are important in the Indians' diet. The mercury will remain in the area for years to come.
The US Penwalt Corporation has operated a mercury-cell chlor-alkali plant in Nicaragua since 1967. During the first 12 years of production more than 40 tons of mercury were discharged into the air and water. In 1980, 50 lbs/day were being discharged. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that by 1980, 37 percent of the workers showed evidence of mercury intoxication with central nervous system damage. Highest rates were found among vat workers (75%), process operators (48%), and maintenance workers (37%), but even 12 percent of the office workers were affected.
Investigators found gross contamination on the site, including standing puddles of mercury. Most of the discharged mercury found its way into Lake Managua, the major source of drinking water and fish for the nation's capital.
In Colombia, a soda plant leaked large amounts of mercury into the Bay of Cartagena between 1972 and 1977. By 1977, tests showed that 20 pounds of mercury could be obtained from bay water in one hour.
In Venezuela, the discharge of mercury from a seaside plant in Moron has created a health hazard for the local population, which is dependent on fish.
In Northeast Brazil, mercury pollution, toxic fumes, and industrial refuse are acknowledged but tolerated, as the government feels that pollution control discourages industrial development.
MINING - GENERAL
Mining and refining is economically attractive in many Third World countries which have lax health and environmental protection regulations. In industrialized nations, mining operations must meet some or all of the following requirements: safe air and water pollution levels, health and safety standards for workers, solid waste disposal regulations, and land reclamation.
International mining is dominated by multi-national corporations. While these companies often operate as partners - in some cases as minor partners - they still provide some of the capital, expertise, and markets. In the past, mining was more restricted to industrialized countries where ready markets existed. Now, because of increased demand and forced compliance with pollution and safety regulations, many corporations find it advantageous to relocate in the Third World. The governments of these countries, citing economic development as their most urgent need, are often willing to adapt to the wishes of the mining industry in return for the infusion of management and technical skills, ready markets, and much-needed capital.
Health hazards for certain segments of their population, and increased pollution in parts of their country, may now seem a small price to pay. But preliminary reports indicate otherwise. Quechua Indians in Bolivia, who mine the country's number 1 export - tin, generally do not live more than seven years after going to the mines. For their efforts they earn $1 per day and the lowest life expectancy (42 years) in the Western Hemisphere. Their children have the highest infant mortality rate in this hemisphere. In Peru, some 100 mining companies dump tailings into rivers. The government has just now begun to check for cadmium, quartz, and copper.
Johns-Manville is a large corporation that produces asbestos products, including asbestos-cement pipe. The company recently closed four U.S. pipe plants because of U.S. concern about the use of asbestos cement in pipes for water supply systems. There is also growing concern that asbestos cement roof tiles, storage tanks, and cisterns also contaminate water supplies. Asbestos leaching from these products is especially common in water with a low Ph and low calcium saturation - i.e. rainwater. The company still has investments in 88 plants operated by 63 companies in 28 countries.A company affiliate in Ahmedabad, India, dumps asbestos cement waste along roadsides and on surrounding lots where children pay. Products from this plant are sold in 57 countries, but no warnings accompany the products which are marked in India, Africa, and the Middle East.
Johns-Manville is not the only multinational asbestos company involved. An English-based firm (54 percent owned by General Dynamics of the U.S.) has either installed or is in the process of installing asbestos-cement pipe and sheet plants in Tunisia, the Middle East, the Philippines, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. As the president of the company said, "to name but a few."
A number of copper smelting operations are being relocated in the Third World because it is less expensive than compliance with US health and safety standards.
A 1975 report of the US Secretary of Commerce indicated that pollution control costs in the US added 6.6 cents per pound (10 percent of the value of copper at that time) to the final product cost. In South America, required pollution control costs only added .5 cents to the final product.
Attempts to control some of the effects of pollution do not always work, as is attested to by the 25 percent Amax owned smelting complex in Botswana. Barry Castleman describes the discouraging history of the plant...Careless initial planning has led to costly delays in the project, extended shutdown of the sulfur recovery unit, and unanticipated heat stress among workers mining the chemically unstable ore. The Botswana government had to go to great expense to build the infrastructure (roads and a town) needed to operate this smelter at its remote location. The position of the new town relative to the smelter was designed to minimize the potential air pollution hazard to the town. Unfortunately, this planning, which was done by the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development, utilized wind direction data from a place 80 miles away - where the winds were not the same as the winds at the smelter location. The result is that in late 1977, the town was needlessly exposed to air pollution from the smelter, whose sulfur recovery unit was still not working.
A 1976 study of workers in two Indiana lead smelters revealed that most had high blood lead levels, and that many had to take chelation drugs to be able to work at all. Children of lead workers were poisoned by the dust brought home on their parents' clothes and shoes.
In 1978, when most US lead smelters were not in compliance with the existing standards of 200 micrograms/m(3), OSHA proposed levels of 100 micrograms/m(3). Such regulations are making it increasingly difficult for lead smelting operations in the US to compete with those in other countries. In 1980, one smelter in Somerville, MA, reputedly attempted to cut costs by hiring illegal aliens. These workers, who did not have working papers and spoke only halting
English, were not interested in drawing attention to themselves by causing trouble for their employer. Zinc
The Bureau of Mines reported that, from 1968-75, demand for zinc in the US increased even as production capacity declined by 50 percent. By 1976, zinc imports to the US were 30% greater than domestic production. Canada and Mexico supply just over half of the metal and concentrates; Zaire and Spain are also increasing their exports to the US. A new smelter in Thailand will export about half of its production, mostly to the US.
Government owned smelters are being built in Bolivia and Peru. Their low construction costs indicate the possibility of minimal expenditures for health and environmental protection.
The production of steel is a highly polluting industry. In the US, however, regulations to reduce pollution from the production of coke - the most polluting part of the steel-making process - added only one to three percent to the product's final cost. Because of the high cost of transporting fragile coke, it is doubtful that it will ever be imported to industrialized countries. Thus, some countries, including Japan, are building steel mills abroad.
Several years ago, Kawasaki wanted to expand steel production at its mill in Chiba, Japan. Local opposition forced the company to limit its expansion to a blast furnace at Chiba, so they also built a sintering plant on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines. This plant produces iron pellets from Australian and Brazilian dusts, which are then shipped to the Chiba furnace.
A Manila newspaper reacted favorably to the construction of the Kawasaki plant, claiming that Philippine authorities have no objection to its "installation in the under-polluted southern island." Some 1500 families were evacuated from the six sq. km. "pollution zone" around the plant. Considered unskilled, these farmers and fishermen were not hired to work on the plant, which now employs from 600 to 700 outsiders.
According to Barry Newman of the Wall Street Journal, a Nippon Steel mill is said to be the filthiest and most dangerous factory in Malaysia. A US manager of an arsenic pesticide plant said if OSHA walked into the mill, they would probably close it down.
In one Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing plant workers are regularly exposed to concentrations of PVC, which is carcinogenic, ranging from hundreds to several thousand ppm. OSHA standards recommend 1 ppm for daily average exposure.
Workers at a textile plant in Malaysia that is partly owned by Indian investors are exposed to cotton dust, noise, chemical dyes, and other safety hazards. When workers complain, they are told that things are even worse in India.
Early studies in the US, noting the remote location of most uranium mines, generally concluded that the danger to the local populations was negligible. While the numbers of people affected may be small, they often represent large portions of entire ethnic groups.
With the opening of Kerr-McGee's Shiprock uranium mine in New Mexico, there has been a small epidemic of lung cancer among Navajo miners. Some 25 have died already; more will die in the 1980s, due to the disease's 15-20 year latency period.
The Navajo miners have been exposed to radon gas while mining uranium ore. The carcinogenic dangers of this gas were first pointed out in Germany in the early 1900s; by 1944, studies showed that 50 to 75 percent of the uranium miners in Germany and Czechoslovakia died of lung cancer. Still, the AEC would not admit this danger at Shiprock for the first 20 years of the mine's operation. Only in 1971 was the federal radiation standard enforced.
Pollution from the Grants Mineral Belt uranium mine has contaminated nearby surface water, making it unfit for domestic use, livestock, or irrigation. Most residents in the area are Native Americans. While an EPA report documenting the hazards has never been made public, the following information has come to light.
1) a sample of drinking water taken from a mobile home had alpha radiation levels 70 times higher than proposed standards
2) some drinking water supplies at the mine did not even meet the EPA and AEC minimum standards for waste discharge
3) dust from mine tailings blows indiscriminately over the area
4) open pit mining releases radon gas, which is breathed by everyone downwind
5) United Nuclear Corporation's waste pond spilled into a local river in 1979 and contaminated water used by Indians and their livestock. The area was posted, but signs don't help the illiterate, and animals can't read.
As of 1980, uranium mining was at a standstill. Questions concerning the health hazards of mining, milling, and waste disposal, as well as the effects of these activities on the environment, have not yet been satisfactorily answered. Mining companies are facing tougher waste regulations, higher taxes, and many lawsuits aimed at blocking exploration and development.
CHROME WASTE IN A MEXICAN CITY
A Bayer affiliate factory, 25 miles north of Mexico City, was found to be dumping chromate pollution into the workplace and the environment. Inside the plant, forty-six percent of the workers suffered perforated nasal septa, in addition to other skin reactions, from chromate poisoning.
The pollution, however, spread beyond the factory. In the town, chrome waste pellets were used to fill potholes in the streets. Chromate pollution contaminated the town's water supply, as well as many corn fields. Ten children and numerous domestic animals have reportedly died from chromate poisoning.
* Much of the information in this issue came from Barry Castleman, The Export of Hazardous Factories to Developing Nations, March 7, 1978, 36 pages.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.