A waste processing company and the surrounding community are at odds over the operation of a Holcim Mexico plant.
Although the National Water Commission (Conagua) exonerated the Ecoltec company, a subsidiary of Holcim, of polluting nearby water sources, a group of residents has maintained a blockade of the plant since May 2009 in Apaxco, some 85km northeast of Mexico City.
In a September 27 resolution, Conagua stated that the Macuspana plant, in operation since 2003, does not discharge liquid waste into underground water supplies or into the nearby Salado River. But the decision by the water authority "is irrelevant if the social conflict isn’t resolved.
This situation is a vicious circle," Sergio Herrera, head of inspection of pollution sources in PROFEPA, Mexico’s federal agency for environmental protection, told IPS. In March 2009, 11 rural workers drowned while they were cleaning a sewage treatment plant in the area. And on May 5, the Ecoltec plant had a leak of ethyl acrylate, a by-product of the chemistry and paint industry that is considered toxic to the human nervous system.
Shortly after the two incidents, local residents founded the Apaxco-Atotonilco Pro Health Movement, which is blocking the entrance to the plant. But almost 18 months later, Conagua determined "the inexistence of hydraulic infrastructure for the discharge of wastewater to recipient bodies of national property, including the subsoil, such that it is not technically or materially feasible to dump or discharge wastewater into national assets."
Nevertheless, Arturo de León, a member of the medical faculty at the Autonomous National University of Mexico and a researcher with the non-governmental Centre for Diagnosis and Alternatives for Those Affected by Toxic Substances (CEDAAT), assured IPS that "The Salado River is polluted." CEDAAT has conducted clinical research into the most frequent causes of death and illness in the area since 1980. The results will be released in November.
Ecoltec, founded in 1993, processes materials like batteries, tyres and industrial waste to generate fuel that cement factories in the area utilise to run their kilns. Apaxco is located in an industrial belt where 115 factories operate, including a refinery of the state-run oil giant Pemex and several cement factories, one of which belongs to Holcim.
"We are going to comply with the provisions and continue to negotiate with the local residents," Ecoltec spokesperson Gustavo Gastelum told IPS.