A high-ranking United Nations (UN) official has described the failure of mining company Grupo México to remediate the damage caused by a toxic spill in Sonora as a “shameless and flagrant example of impunity.”
Baskut Tuncak, the organization’s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, made the comment at a human rights event in Mexico City yesterday, two days after he met with affected residents in the northern border state.
“We’re talking about one of the biggest companies in the whole world, a company that literally moves mountains in just a few weeks and it can’t build a few water treatment plants or finish building a hospital they committed to. If that’s not a shameless and flagrant example of . . . impunity, I don’t know what else it could be,” he said.
On August 6, 2014, 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate and other toxic substances spilled into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers from the company’s Buenavista copper mine in Cananea, Sonora, contaminating the local water supply.
An estimated 22,000 people in seven municipalities were affected by the spill, which federal environmental officials have described as “the worst environmental disaster” in the history of Mexican mining.
In 2015, Grupo México — the country’s largest mining corporation — in conjunction with the federal Health Secretariat announced the construction of a 279-million-peso (US $14.2 million at today’s exchange rate) medical clinic to treat and monitor victims of the contamination and also committed to building 36 water purification plants.
But Tuncak stressed that affected residents are still waiting for the company to fulfill its promises.
“In the case of the Sonora River . . . the company committed to provide an effective solution to these communities but for four years they haven’t had access to a trustworthy water source . . . .”
Nor have they had access to the special hospital that was promised: it is only half-built, he said.
Residents and citizens’ committees have appealed to both state and federal authorities as well as Grupo México to resolve the situation but to little or no avail.
The UN rapporteur met with residents of the municipality of Baviácora on Sunday. They told him that health problems, ecological damage and negative economic consequences linked to the environmental disaster still remain.
One local woman said that more than 1,000 residents had been affected by medical problems linked to the accumulation of heavy metals in their blood, including skin conditions, neurological damage and various kinds of cancer.
Residents also questioned why the World Health Organization (WHO) had not assessed the situation or offered them any assistance.
“What happened with the WHO? Why hasn’t it come? . . . This is a matter that the UN and its agencies should be fully involved in and questioning,” they said.