Mexico City’s new airport has sparked a “gravel rush” in several México state municipalities where mines have been springing up to supply the huge quantities of construction materials that are needed.
Now there are concerns that the rush to extract tezontle and basalt, two volcanic rocks widely used in construction in Mexico, is threatening wildlife and the lives of residents over a broad area of the state.
The newspaper Reforma reported mines in the municipalities of Acolman, Axapusco, Cocotitlán, Otumba, Nopaltepec, San Martín de las Pirámides, Temamatla, Temascalapa, Tlalmanalco and Tezoyuca, but residents say they have appeared all through the eastern municipalities.
The Mexico City Airport Group (GACM), the agency building the facility, has estimated that 63 million square meters of tezontle are needed just to prepare the more than 5,000 hectares of land for the runways.
As the number of mines grows so do conflicts over land ownership, while no one has determined yet the environmental impact of the massive mining operation.
The state Environment Secretariat said in November it had shut down 11 such mines.
Thirty-four kilometers away from the existing airport, Pablo Cortés is offering an entire 80-meter-high hill in the municipality of Texcoco for 350 pesos per square meter (just under US $20), urging those interested in exploiting the underlying volcanic rock to make a decision fast because large construction companies like Grupo Carso and Coconal “have already asked around.”
Cortés is free to offer his land but in the town of San Luis Tecuahutitlán, Temascalapa, people have organized themselves to prevent leaders of the ejido from making deals with mining companies and authorizing the extraction of material from the hillsides around the town.
Reforma said the hills of Tonalá, Tepozayo, Tetláloc, Tlaltepeque and Tompeatillo were already being exploited to some degree of “devastation.”
Residents have managed to halt mining activities on one of those hills, and are demanding the dismissal of municipal staff and members of the Citizen Participation Council, who reportedly approved the mining.
In Santa María Maquixco El Alto, a nearby town, residents have accused their ejido authorities of allowing mining firms to offer skimpy payments for the exploitation of community-owned land.
Reforma reported that not only have flora and fauna been affected by the mining activity, but also archaeological remains.
In Tezoyuca, a 30-hectare tezontle mine has put close to 40 dwellings at high risk as excavations have created a 50-meter-deep ravine just half a meter away from the houses. Regulations stipulate that such activity should not be closer than 20 meters to an inhabited area, and the excavation should be carried out in such a way as to create a 60-degree slope.
College professor César Ramos is one of the residents now living with a 50-meter drop-off next to his house. He told Reforma that the “excessive exploitation of the hill started years ago, they’ve even used dynamite and the excavation has been officially suspended several times, but they return almost immediately.”