An oil spill in southern Veracruz that forced the evacuation of 300 people is estimated to have killed thousands of birds, fish and other animals, leaving a fishing community wondering how they will live.
Residents of Nanchital blame Pemex and Pemex blames vandals for causing a pipeline spill that has affected a seven-kilometer stretch of the Tepeyac creek and now threatens the Coatzacoalcos river, into which the Tepeyac flows.
The mayor of Nanchital estimates it will take months to clean up the effects of the spill, and fears community wells will become polluted.
Zoila Balderas Guzmán said the municipality will take legal action against whoever is responsible but also criticized the state oil company for what she called “indifference” and neglecting to notify local authorities when the spill took place.
The incident was first noted on September 28 but it wasn’t until Thursday that the evacuation of residents began. They were moved to shelters after the odor of petroleum became unbearable. It was also on Thursday that dead animals began appearing.
Oceanographer Homero Bennet said the spilled substance was strong enough to cause the rapid decomposition of affected animals. No one has said what precisely the substance is, and Pemex has only said vandals caused the pipeline spill and that personnel were working to contain it at the source.
Bennet also urged that municipal authorities file a complaint against Pemex with the environmental protection agency and suspend all fishing immediately.
A Civil Protection spokesman said it was urgent that Pemex initiate clean-up efforts on the Tepeyac creek and begin bioremediation.
Fishermen claim it’s not the first time they have seen an oil spill in the area. They say Pemex has blamed vandals in the past but locals believe the spills are caused by poor maintenance.
Beatriz Torres Beristáin, a researcher at the University of Veracruz, charges that there are 673 other cases of petroleum pollution in the state that have been catalogued by the federal Environment Secretariat (Semarnat).
In the neighboring state of Tabasco, some people are blaming oil pollution for the deaths of up to 50 manatees along with snakes, crocodiles and fish that have perished in the Bitzales region of Macuspana.
Residents living nearby have reported suffering skin damage.
A Semarnat representative said the situation in Tabasco as “a problem [affecting] the social and economic structures of the region,” and has been described as one of the worst ecological crises in the state.